Over the last decade Tom Thibodeau has established his defensive scheme as the best in the NBA, leading three different teams to sustained success. Every season, based on defensive rating, he has finished in the top six: nine times in the top three, and five times first. So how do you attack a system with such sustained success?
It's no mean trick. In the 180 games that Thibodeau has been head coach of the Bulls, Chicago has yielded 100 points only 38 times. When teams have scored those 38 times, though, they tend to win, as the Bulls are only 13-25 in those games. That accounts for nearly half of the 52 losses Thibodeau has suffered as a head coach.
We'll use those 38 occurrences, win or lose, to discover what teams did well to accomplish that trick.
Thibodeau's defensive premise is simple: get back on defense, seal off the perimeter to force bad shots, and do this without fouling.
Therefore, to attack the defense there are three things you need to do: push the defense before it has chance to get settled, be patient and find good shots by passing the ball, and when that fails, force contact to get free points at the charity stripe.
The first and most important thing you have to do if you want to beat the Bulls defense is to start your offense with your own defense. You have to push the ball. If you let the Bulls get back in their half-court defense and get settled, then you're just not going to have much of a chance to win.
In the 38 games that the Bulls have given up 100 points they turned the ball over at least 12 times in 30 of them, and they are 10-20 in those contests. (It's interesting to note that only three of those 28 games came after the All-Star break).
It's not just turnovers, though; it's also pushing the ball up after rebounds, or even makes. Watch as the Trail Blazers use 18 fast-break points to rack up a 102-94 win over the Bulls.
To reverse the Gambler's good advice, while you need to know when to run, you also need to know when to hold when you're facing the Bulls defense. Of the 38 games the Bulls gave up 100 points or more, their opponents shot at least .480 in 24 of them.
Furthermore, in 21 of those games the Bulls' opponents had at least half their field goals assisted and shot an effective field goal percentage of at least 50 percent. Their opponents in those games were 17-4.
Watch below as the Celtics repeatedly use patience and passing to find good shots against the Bulls defense. (On the second shot it was called goal tending by Boozer.)
Finally we come to drawing fouls. In the Thibodeau era the Bulls give up the fourth fewest free-throw attempts per game at 21.4. In the games where they've given up 100, their opponents have averaged 24. In games that they've given up at last 21, they are only 8-14.
Teams that use players cutting to the rim are particularly successful at drawing fouls against the Bulls. Watch how the Philadelphia 76ers repeatedly used this strategy in the postseason last year.
Of course all of these things are easier said than done. If they were easily done, Thibodeau wouldn't have the best defense in the league every year. Only three teams have accomplished all these things in the same game and all three won. The Celtics, on November 12 of this season; The Sixers on January 7 of last season; and the New York Knicks on November 4 of 2010. All three teams won the game.
At least in principle, though, this is how you go about it.
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