NBA Playoffs 2011: 10 Steps for Bulls to Ensure a Game 4 Victory over Heat
Derrick Rose looked frustrated. Carlos Boozer played well, but spoke softly and sadly after the game. Joakim Noah got so upset he’s going to be fined six figures for it.
In other words, Game 3 didn’t go so well for the Chicago Bulls.
All hope is not lost, despite the looming suspicion that the Bulls don’t have the offensive firepower to match the Miami Heat. Yes, O.J. Mayo seems very tempting right about now, but Chicago fans need to remember that a Game 4 win will tie the series and make it a best-of-three.
With that said, Tom Thibodeau can’t expect his team to just do what it did in Game 3, only better. Adjustments must be made. Scoring more points than the Heat is obviously the ultimate goal, but as these past two games have shown, that’s easier said than done against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
What to do, what to do? Here are 10 things the Bulls should at least consider trying in their must-win showdown with the Heat.
1. Stop Relying on the Pick-and-Roll
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this suggestion, but I’ll say it again on the off chance that Tom Thibodeau is reading. Derrick Rose can take just about any single player in the NBA one-on-one thanks to his quick crossover and his acceleration.
What he can’t do is blow past two lengthy defenders like LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
That’s what keeps happening, however, when Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah set picks for Rose. The two defenders collapse on him, and he’s forced to pass it to one of the aforementioned big men at the top of the key.
This creates a less-than-ideal situation. Gibson and Boozer can take that shot, though it’s probably a bit out of their range. Noah proved an adept passer in Game 3, but still he’s not who Thibodeau wants dictating the offense from 20 feet away.
The answer to this conundrum is simple: Stop doing it. Or, if the Bulls are committed to it, at least have someone who can shoot from deep setting the screen, such as Luol Deng or Kyle Korver. Chicago has used Korver that way earlier in the series, and there’s no reason to shy away from it now.
The Bulls need Rose to play at an MVP-level if they hope to even out the series. Freeing him from double teams can only help him elevate his game.
2. Create More Three-Point Opportunities
Perhaps it was the atrocious 3-for-20 display from beyond the arc in Game 2 that deterred the Bulls from shooting three-pointers in Game 3. Or maybe it was the Heat’s defense. Either way, shooting only 12 times from distance is not going to cut it.
I’m not expecting another 10-for-21 showing from Chicago like in Game 1. But the Bulls did shoot 5-for-12 in Game 3, and their three-point field goal percentage was actually marginally better than their overall shooting percentage in their recent loss. That includes a few last-second heaves.
The problem, naturally, is Rose’s inability thus far to drive and kick to open shooters. If he can’t get in the lane, Miami’s defenders can stay home on Keith Bogans, Korver and Deng.
Charles Barkley seems to say at least twice a game that Rose is the only player on the Bulls that can create his own shot. That’s not exactly true. Which is why the Bulls should...
3. Play C.J. Watson Alongside Derrick Rose
If there’s another player that can drive and kick on this Bulls roster, it’s C.J. Watson. He doesn’t get the most playing time, but he certainly makes the most of his time on the court. He is a good facilitator on the offensive end, and has been widely credited for frustrating Mario Chalmers on defense.
So, why not try the two together, at least for a short time? Rose can guard Dwyane Wade, and Watson can frustrate Mike Bibby, Chalmers or maybe even Mike Miller. The nice part about having guys like Watson and Ronnie Brewer is they can expend all their energy in short bursts, since they are only playing a half a quarter at a time.
It’s not a surefire plan, to be sure, but having someone else on the floor that can create could throw Miami for a loop. Watson could even bring the ball up sometimes and have Rose play on the wing. The simple Rose pick-and-roll with a big man and some spot-up shooters on the floor isn’t going to cut it against the Heat.
4. Let Kyle Korver Shoot When He’s Playing
While on the subject of the bench, Korver needs to get the ball in his hands on offense while he’s on the court. He’s in the game for instant offense, so there’s no excuse for him taking just two shots in 11 minutes in Game 3.
It’s hard enough for a shooter to come off the bench in such a limited role, but it’s even more difficult when he only gets off a few shots a game. If he’s in a funk, let him shoot his way out of it. Lest we forget he made the game-winning shot in the Bulls’ first meeting with the Heat this season.
As I mentioned with Brewer and Watson, having a deep bench give those players the luxury of going all-out and swarming the Heat with energy. The same could be said about Korver on the offensive end. With Wade on him, he needs to run all over the court and have his teammates throw pick after pick at Wade. Tire him out. Frustrate him. And, after all that, shoot a few more threes. As subpar as he has been this series, I have faith he can knock down half his treys.
5. Continue the Strong Interior Passing
Though I seem to have harped on the outside shooting a lot so far, nothing says guaranteed points more than getting a layup or dunk. Joakim Noah disappointed in more ways than one in Game 4, but he had a few beautiful passes that led to easy scores. That needs to continue.
Joel Anthony had his way with the Bulls down low in the first quarter, recording four blocks and altering a few more shots. He finished the game with five swats.
The thing about players like Anthony is he’s vulnerable to the exact passing that Noah provided. He has to commit to a player when preparing for a block, which presents an opening in the Miami defense.
Boozer is also a good passer, and has recorded at least one assist in each playoff game so far. If the Heat are resolute in getting the ball out of Rose’s hands, and the Bulls want to avoid another block party, the bigs are going to have to dish the ball well in Game 4.
6. Continue to Win the Offensive Rebound Battle
This almost goes without saying. If the Bulls continue to shoot at a lower percentage than the Heat, then they better attempt more shots to make up for it. Potentially losing Omer Asik is a huge blow to Chicago, but Noah, Gibson and Boozer should have no problem holding down the fort.
Udonis Haslem adds some toughness to the Heat frontcourt, but he’s only notched nine rebounds between Games 2 and 3. That’s not game changing.
It would also be prudent for the Bulls to actually turn some more of those tips into baskets, which they seem to have trouble doing lately. Missed shots at the rim happen, but against a team as potent as the Heat, it’s basically unacceptable.
7. Create More Transition Opportunities
Clearly, the Bulls had their best offensive output at the end of the game, when they had no choice but to push the tempo and get out in transition. It reminded me of a two-minute drill in football. While that pace is unsustainable for an entire game (especially against the Heat), why not try it more often.
Granted, the personnel sometimes isn’t there. Rose passed to Bogans on a fastbreak, and he seemed so lost on what to do that he just pulled the ball back out.
In that case, get a lineup of Rose-Brewer-Deng-Gibson-Noah in there near the end of the first quarter and push the tempo. Noah might be the only center in the NBA that can lead a fastbreak himself.
The Miami halfcourt defense is tough to crack. It’s a lot easier to find holes if it isn’t set.
8. Create a Better Balance Between Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson
It’s hard and almost foolhardy to criticize Thibodeau for not playing Gibson more in Game 3, considering Boozer put up a monster statline of 26 points and 17 rebounds in arguably his best game as a member of the Bulls.
But I am.
Gibson might have been stupid to taunt Chris Bosh. He might have fouled too early and too often. But in no way does that merit him only getting 12 minutes of playing time in Game 3.
While on the court, Gibson shot an efficient 5-for-6 from the field, scored 11 points and had three offensive rebounds. He’s also a much better defender than Boozer is.
Thibodeau is in a tough spot regarding his two power forwards. Gibson is a better player overall, but Boozer is the starter and has a superior offensive arsenal (despite sometimes not showing it). And in a series where the Bulls are hard-pressed to find points, Boozer is a nice option to have on the floor.
Alternatively, when Gibson and Asik are on the floor, as ESPN’s John Hollinger said, opponents just don’t score.
So, Thibs has to strike some sort of balance. What that exact ratio is, I don’t know. All I know is the Bulls can’t afford for Gibson to be on the bench for 75 percent of the game.
9. Don’t Let Chris Bosh Get Comfortable
Obviously, Chris Bosh cannot have a performance anywhere close to what he did in Game 3 if the Bulls want any chance of winning. This is the same human who shot an abysmal 1-for-18 against Chicago in the regular season.
As much as Bosh tried to shed the “soft” label last night, he’s still got it. There’s a reason why multiple players have called him out on his lack of toughness. When the going gets tough, he struggles.
Message for Noah, Gibson and Boozer: Get physical with Bosh.
Don’t let him near the basket. Box him out hard on every rebound. Play him tight and cut off his first step to the basket. It’s inexcusable that Noah, the supposed All-NBA defender (Asik, Gibson and Brewer are all better), can’t stay with Bosh on a drive to the basket.
Get in his face, and after the game wait for his comments about playing nice so everyone can feed their families.
10. Commit Hard Fouls on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
Korver’s foul on LeBron was not hot sauce. It was weak sauce.
Along the same lines as playing physical with Bosh, the Bulls can’t let Wade and James get and-one opportunities. I applaud the team’s commitment to good defense, but there comes a time when a squad needs to resort to a little intimidation. Remember what the Indiana Pacers did to Rose? That’s what I envision. No flagrants, just good, hard playoff fouls.
At the same time, the Bulls should be in desperation mode heading into Game 4. That means sacrificing your body to draw a charge on the human locomotive, LeBron James.
Knowing the psyche of Wade and James, they’re feeling pretty good about themselves right now. I watched the game with one of my friends who hadn’t seen the Heat play this season, and he commented that Wade was “oozing with arrogance.”
The time to knock the Big Three down to Earth is now. Otherwise, it’ll be never.