Their issues are fixable, but still a massive concern for this playoffs.
In a charged and entertaining series during which homecourt has been more like Kryptonite than the Fortress of Solitude, the Boston Celtics were able to regain their composure by reeling off three wins in a row against the Chicago Bulls, including a Game 5 win in Boston.
The C’s certainly have been the beneficiaries of a Rajon Rondo-sized injury. The Bulls sport a +14.5 offensive rating (ORtg) when their point guard is on the floor and a -11.5 ORtg when he sits for a grand total of +26 per Basketball Reference. That is a large impact—in fact the largest of any Bulls player to have logged ten or more minutes in the playoffs.
But the Celtics have also been supported by some bad Bulls defense which one would not expect with guys like Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Robin Lopez in their starting lineup. In Game 5 of this first round series, Chicago allowed Boston to shoot a number of wide open threes. Some of this, of course, was due to superior offensive play by the Celtics, but some was due to basic defensive miscommunication or lack of effort.
The Celtics only won Game 5 by 11 points thanks to a 29-16 fourth quarter run and additionally shot just 22.5 percent from deep. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were a combined 1-15 from three-point land, and the Celtics for the series have shot only 32.4 percent (down from 36 percent in the regular season). Chicago’s poor defensive play on the perimeter is an exercise in playing with fire. At some point if they continue to let Boston shoot these types of three’s, they will get burned.
So let’s look at a few of those defensive miscues to see where Chicago fell short.
Here’s a play from late in the first quarter with the Celtics down six. Thomas baits his man, Isaiah Canaan, into thinking he’s going around a Kelly Olynyk screen, but opts not to use it and blows by Canaan. As a result, Chicago’s defense collapses into the paint to stop an easy Thomas two.
The problem is that all five of Chicago’s defenders crash the paint, allowing Thomas the option to kick out to any of his four teammates (though he wisely chooses Marcus Smart with a gorgeous wrap-around pass). Butler steps up and plays solid help defense, but Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, and Paul Zipser did not need to converge on Thomas.
I mean, c’mon… there’s no reason for Thomas to draw every defender on the court here. And you may be able to convince me that Zipser was rotating down to help Butler cover back door, but look at Avery Bradley! He’s all alone cutting baseline and if Thomas wanted, he could have thrown him a lob or dropped him a soft bounce pass for an easy deuce.
Then one possession later, Olynyk sets a down screen for Avery Bradley who pops out of the top of the arc for another wide open triple.
Portis gets caught up in the screen allowing Bradley ample time to set and fire. But take a look at the angle of this screen and the way Portis attacks it.
Olynyk sets the screen as if Bradley were going to curl behind him, like he’s going to run to Smart’s position on the floor. However, Bradley doesn’t do that, instead opting for a straightaway three. Portis runs smack into the screen instead of trailing Bradley and forcing him to create off the dribble. This is a relatively minor flaw, but Boston wasn’t running any complex sets to get Bradley open. This was a good look resulting from Portis taking a bad path to the ball.
The Celtics’ very next possession shows yet another defensive mistake allowing this time Olynyk a wide open look from downtown.
Three straight trips down the floor result in triples for the C’s due to miscommunication or poor basic defense. Here, Olynyk acts like he’s going to screen again for Bradley, but the Boston guard quickly cuts into the lane, drawing both Butler and Felicio with him.
This play more than others feels like a Brad Stevens shrewdly designed set where Bradley acts as a decoy to free up Olynyk for three. But still, the Bulls should have communicated better in designating who would guard the screener.
In the second quarter, the Bulls got confused by another screen, this time by Marcus Smart. What’s hard to tell in the following gif is that Smart sets a down screen for Al Horford on Lopez. Lopez recovers to Horford who then sets a screen for Terry Rozier, which is all standard except Smart’s defender, Zipser, switches onto Horford as well. Consequently, the Bulls had three players guarding a two-man pick and roll.
From this screenshot you can already see where this possession is going. Rozier kicks to Crowder who swings to Smart for another uncontested look in the corner.
There is no reason for there to be three guys defending that pick and roll. Between Lopez and Zipser there has to be better communication about that Smart pick.
In the third quarter Horford got his own open corner look. Crowder set a high screen for Thomas and both rocketed into the lane. Crowder’s man. Nikola Mirotic, blitzed the screen and then recovered to Gerald Green, the nearest offensive player. Mirotic points to the rolling Crowder, who by this time has passed Wade’s area of influence (the twelve time All-Star probably should have stepped in front of Crowder and allowed Mirotic to recover to Green).
You can see that Lopez heeds the call, rotating over to cut off what would have been an easy layup for Crowder. So far so good for Chicago. The problem, however, starts and ends here as no one rotates over to guard Horford. That player presumably would be Wade and once he realizes it’s his responsibility, it’s too late.
Look at how far he is from Horford as the ball leaves Thomas’ hand. That’s a solid 16-20 feet of space. The former Florida big gets a clean, easy shot from the corner where he shot nearly 37 percent in the regular season.
It’s possible that Chicago is giving up these corner three’s on purpose due to Boston’s atrocious 26.1 percent shooting from the corners as a team in this series. But I seriously doubt that any team would be attempting to force an opponent to shoot one of the most lucrative shots in the game.
And finally, and most egregiously, let’s look at another unbelievably open corner three back in the second quarter.
There are so many things that went wrong here that are all worrisome.
First of all, how do you leave Thomas so open on a sideline out of bounds play? He is the opponent’s best player! He should never be that open on any out of bounds play, plays where your defense has time to mark every man.
Second, due to the flood of action on the right side of the floor there are no Bulls defenders available to help Butler after he rotates over to Thomas. Again, that looks like it should be Wade who’s floating around in no man’s land having given up on the play.
The Bulls get very fortunate as Olynyk inexplicably misses except Bradley, who is 6‘2, grabs an uncontested, one-handed offensive rebound/tip back. That is unacceptable, and again (and most notably), Wade’s lack of effort allowed not only Thomas to get open, not only for Olynyk to stay open, but also for Bradley to get that ridiculous offensive board. He ball watches like it’s a shooting star in the night sky instead of boxing out the only guy near him and someone whom he very easily could have boxed out.
This is the epitome of a bad defensive possession, and it was bad because there was no communication and poor-to-no effort. These types of mistakes are very fixable, which is good for Bulls fans. But watching a team play with this kind of lack of discipline and heart in the playoffs is concerning. Fred Hoiberg will have to light into his team about its defense before Friday’s Game 6 at the United Center, because they can’t allow the Celtics that many uncontested looks again if they want to survive in this series.
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