In the aftermath of Miami's punishing victory in Game 3, there are a few reactions that seem to dominate most observers' opinions. The Heat have been more aggressive, the Bulls have no answer for Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose and his teammates need to get their shots to fall.
None of these assessments are inaccurate, but the most pivotal factor in the Bulls' struggle to beat the Heat is being almost completely overlooked.
The Bulls' offense is terrible.
The answer may be different players, or the addition of at least one other deadly scorer, but that speculation is pointless until the offseason. The question is, "what can the Bulls do differently on offense if they are going to win this series, or even push it past five games?"
The answer isn't sexy or controversial. The Bulls just have to play better fundamental basketball. Let's take a look at five ways that could happen.
Derrick Rose is the engine that makes the Bulls offense go. This is hardly breaking news, but since his 28-point effort in Game 1, the MVP has been unable to get the fire started.
In the Bulls' two losses in the series, Derrick is a combined 15-for-42 from the field. That's 36 percent. That's not a pretty stat, and it gets worse. Between Games 2 and 3, Rose made only one shot in the 4th quarter.
There's no way a team already a little short on scoring can advance to the finals with their best player performing like this. Of course, if Derrick was making better passes and working harder to get his teammates going, shots and driving lanes would start opening up for him.
The Bulls didn't sign LeBron or D-Wade last year, and they didn't add a scorer at the trade deadline. But they could still get a major boost in productivity from the 2-guard spot if Tom Thibodeau would just bench Kyle Korver.
Korver has mostly split time evenly with Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer, who make their reputations mostly on defense. Korver usually finishes games, because he is a clutch shooter every so often.
The thing is, this team prides itself on defense. Fundamentally, it doesn't make much sense to play the worst defensive player in your rotation during the most important stretch of the game. Moreover, Bogans and Korver have shot at an almost identical rate from outside in the postseason.
Korver is 3-for-12 in the Eastern Conference Finals. That's not the kind of productivity that compels a lot of playing time. Meanwhile, LeBron and D-Wade attack and torch him as often as possible when he's out there in the 4th quarter. The Bulls need Brewer or Bogans' ball pressure to disrupt Miami's offense.
Korver was down to 11 minutes in Game 3, so perhaps Thibodeau is hip to this adjustment. In any case, the less Korver we see, the more games the Bulls will have to play this season.
Look, there's no statistic that perfectly describes the extent of the Bulls failure to play effective offense in Games 2 and 3. It's the sort of thing you really need to see to believe. But to keep it simple, let's think of it as the ratio of team assists (signaling a good team possession) to total field goal attempts.
In Game 1, the Bulls were at 26 percent and Miami was 16 percent. The Bulls easily won that one. In the last two, the Bulls fell to 18 percent and 19 percent, while Miami improved to 26 percent and 24 percent.
Simply put, if the Bulls offense continues to be built around Derrick Rose driving and trying to create his own shots over and over again, the Bulls will be eliminated in five games.
The adjustment is also not complicated. One of the classic hallmarks of the motion offense is that it's the second pass away from the defensive rotation, not the first, that creates an open look at the basket. The Bulls know this. They moved the ball like clockwork during their run to overtake the No. 1 seed late in the regular season.
Against the Heat they have been stifled, settling for bad looks. We've seen the Boozer slip screens, Korver down screens, Derrick Rose penetration—the Bulls need to get that second touch pass back into those progressions, and we will start seeing the easy shots falling too.
The Miami Heat play spectacular defense, and they have choked the Bulls' half-court offense to death. The Bulls need to be aggressive, if you'll pardon the cliche, and make Miami make some adjustments. The Bulls need to run, cut and keep the Heat on their toes a hell of a lot more.
Admittedly, there is some King James fear factor at work here, because Luol Deng is usually one of the best in the business at moving without the ball. In Game 2, and especially Game 3, he has started to lose that activity level.
The Bulls are simply not doing their best to make LeBron and his teammates work hard on defense. For example, the Bulls make little use of the baseline screen. That sprint under the basket, teamed with a screen around one of the bigs, is the best way to get Miami rotating side to side. Those rotations, and over-rotations, create the open shots.
Michael Jordan is the greatest ever in part because he, and superstar sidekick Scottie Pippen, were among the best at moving without the ball. The new school Bulls will never dream of matching their forebears if they can't get more active.
Offensive rebounding has been the only advantage the Bulls have consistently held through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls have led in second chances in each of the games, and Joakim Noah's eight offensive rebounds in Game 1 was instrumental in Chicago's victory.
The Bulls need to exploit this advantage as much as possible. Sometimes that means Rose or another perimeter shooter recognizing that Noah or Boozer is setup down low and hucking up a shot. But mostly it means sending an extra guy to the boards instead of back on defense after a shot.
It's risky, especially considering what Miami can do in transition. But the Heat haven't been hurting the Bulls too badly with fast breaks, and the Bulls need to recognize this is the time to make a couple bold moves.
It may be a subtle adjustment, but this is one area of strength the Bulls will really need to count on if they are going to make this series competitive.
The NBA's Coach of the Year really disappointed with his lack of offensive adjustments for Game 3.
Can he fix the scheme and rally the troops? Only time will tell. Enjoy Game 4!