Bulls' defense stifling Nets
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Even with all the great defense orchestrated by Tom Thibodeau during a long NBA career, it will be tough to top what happened Thursday against Brooklyn.
During a 28-4 Bulls' run that lasted 15 minutes in the first half, the Nets hit 1 of 26 shots from the field.
One make and 25 misses.
That's 3.8 percent.
Luol Deng said after the 79-76 victory he thought the Bulls found their ultimate defensive rhythm. Taj Gibson felt the players rose to the challenge after falling behind 17-5 early in Game 3.
What's obvious is the Bulls' defense is giving Brooklyn problems. The Nets averaged 103.8 points in their final 16 regular-season games, then rolled up 106 in Game 1 against the Bulls.
Since then, Brooklyn scored 82 and 76 points, while shooting 35.4 and 34.6 percent from the field.
Taking a closer look at Game 3, the Bulls aren't doing anything unusual, but three key factors stand out in their defensive success:
• Play 5-on-3: It doesn't take a basketball genius to look at the Nets and recognize Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson as the accomplished scorers. Gerald Wallace used to be good five years ago, but seems to have lost most of his offensive confidence, while power forward Reggie Evans is on the floor strictly to grab rebounds.
So the Bulls have built their basic defense around the personnel. They have individual defenders who can challenge the stars -- Kirk Hinrich on Williams, Jimmy Butler on Johnson and Joakim Noah on Lopez.
Then Carlos Boozer simply sags into the lane and helps protect the basket. Evans doesn't stray too far, because he's looking for offensive rebounds, which helps put Boozer in a good spot near the rim. Luol Deng is quick to slide off Wallace, as well.
• Know the personnel: When Williams drives or Lopez catches the ball near the basket, the Bulls are quick to help.
When Jerry Stackhouse, 38, gets it on the perimeter, the Bulls sag and practically dare him to shoot. When Evans gets an open look, Bulls defenders retreat to rebound position instead of making any attempt to challenge the shot. They'll let Evans shoot jumpers all night long. He took just 2 Thursday and missed them both.
At the end of the first quarter, the Nets lined up in a 1-2-2 set with Williams at the point. The Bulls realized that Evans and Wallace were both on one side of the court, so Taj Gibson left those guys and ran at Williams, who passed it to an open Wallace. He got a decent look at a 3-pointer from the wing -- and shot an air ball.
• Keep it in the half-court: A big part of what the Bulls do defensively is based on smart offense. Avoid the live-ball turnovers (i.e. bad passes) and long misses that lead to fastbreaks.
When the Nets got rolling in Game 1, a big reason is they were running. Brooklyn prefers a faster tempo and higher-scoring game. Slowing the pace definitely works in the Bulls' favor.
Here's some analysis from Williams after Game 3:
"When we get the ball swung to the weak side and we get some movement, we're fine," he said. "But when we just let them keep us on one side, we're struggling."
Williams is on target, but putting that into practice is another story. Brooklyn ranked 27th in the league in assists. The Nets don't pass the ball around. They tend to look inside to Lopez, or run Williams off a screen and put it up. Breaking the trend of quick shots will take some work.
Brooklyn has less than 48 hours to turn things around. During a media availability session at the team's hotel Friday, Wallace complained that he doesn't know his role (try fourth option) and coach P.J. Carlesimo tried to talk through some remedies.
"I think we're going through a tough time right now and that's what playoffs are all about," Carlesimo said, according to the New York Daily News. "We're all frustrated. We're not going to change the starting lineup.
"If we're struggling offensively then we need to address that. If changing the lineup or changing who we put on the floor helps us to score points, then we're going to have to do that."
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