The Bulls evened their record at 2-2 with an ugly, but spirited, 83-81 comeback win against the Bucks on Tuesday. The game featured two teams that aren't clicking offensively. The Bucks entered the season with precious few players capable of creating their own offense and one of those, Michael Redd, is on the shelf for a couple of weeks with a sore knee.
The Bulls are still trying to find their offensive identity in the post-Ben Gordon era. Derrick Rose would seem to be the top candidate to assume that identity, but he's still not in good enough condition to go hard for a full game. In the fourth quarter on Tuesday, however, he showed what Bulls fans can look forward to when he does hit his stride. The game did eventually turn into the Rose vs. Brandon Jennings duel that held so much allure for so many at the United Center. That's the subject for a forthcoming Basketball Prospectus feature, so for now, I'll leave it at that.
I charted possessions for the game, a practice which I plan to make standard when I venture out to the U.C. Helps me keep my head in the game. This time out, I was focusing my notations on the Rose-Jennings match-up, but a look at the quarter-by-quarter efficiencies tells the story about Tuesday's game flow:
Chicago Bulls Poss Pts oRTG
First Quarter 24 13 54.2
Second Quarter 21 16 76.2
Third Quarter 26 27 103.8
Fourth Quarter 22 27 122.7
FINAL 93 83 89.2
Milwaukee Bucks Poss Pts oRTG
First Quarter 24 25 104.2
Second Quarter 22 18 81.8
Third Quarter 24 17 70.8
Fourth Quarter 23 21 91.3
FINAL 93 81 87.1
My takeaways from Tuesday's game:
1. Bucks need work on their end-of-game execution
Brandon Jennings struggled with his pick-and-roll defense after Derrick Rose began to assert himself in the fourth quarter and Vinny Del Negro began calling the play every time down the floor. However, after getting beat a couple of times by going under on the screen while Rose rose up to stick jumpers, Jennings got a key stop by hanging close to Rose to force a miss with :45.6 to play. A short while later, with the Bulls up 83-81, the Bucks had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead. Jennings went one-on-one with Rose, pulled up in the lane and had his shot sent back by Chicago's second-year guard. The Bucks didn't pick for Jennings on that play and Rose did a good job of keeping Jennings in front of him.
Milwaukee got a reprieve when Joakim Noah missed two foul shots. The Bucks rebounded and called timeout with :12.9 remaining. Vinny Del Negro switched up his defensive assignments, putting Kirk Hinrich on Jennings and Rose on Charlie Bell. Hinrich had given Jennings fits for most of the game. The Bucks went with a base offensive set, with Jennings handling the ball out top. Hinrich forced him to give up the ball and he passed to Ersan Ilyasova at the top of the three-point circle. Ilyasova was defended tightly by Luol Deng. Jennings was still on the wing and Bell was open in the corner. Ilyasova could have passed back to Jennings ... hit Bell for an open shot or put the ball on the floor against the close defense of Deng. Instead, he rose and took the three with Deng right in his face, missing badly. After the game, Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles seemed very much put out by Ilyasova's decision in that instance saying that, "... for some reason, he seemed determined to take a three there. We talked about that." It might be awhile before Ilyasova regains Skiles' trust in end-of-game situations.
2. Quick thoughts on Rose-Jennings
Rose really abused Jennings for most of the fourth quarter on the pick-and-roll. He seemed to hit an extra gear in the final frame and just in time for Bulls fans. But it wasn't all on Jennings, of course. No one can stay with Derrick Rose in isolated situations and the Bucks did not adjust to the Bulls' fourth quarter scheme.
3. Luol Deng is back
The Bulls never got the "true gen" when it came to Deng last season because of physical ailments, but Deng is playing and moving like he did as rising star a couple of years ago. Deng is taking better shots, for one, but he's also been playing outstanding defense and is rebounding better than at any time in his career. Deng was already averaging a career-best 9.4 rebounds per 40 minutes (in only three games, of course) before his personal best 20-rebound performance against the Bucks. Deng played more at the four position than normal and responded perfectly against a Bucks' squad replete with combo forwards. The reason Deng played so much time at the four was because ...
4. Tyrus Thomas didn't play and he wasn't missed
You get the feeling that the Tyrus Thomas vs. the Bulls case is turning into a big-time distraction for Vinny Del Negro, Gar Forman and John Paxson. Here is the recent sequence of events. First, Thomas' fifth-year option was not picked up by the Bulls before Monday's deadline. That means he's headed for restricted free agency next summer. He'll dangle on the hook while the Bulls make a hard play for Dwyane Wade. If it seems like Wade and his people are willing to play ball, Thomas will invariably have his rights denounced. It's going to take a max-contract to pry Wade away from Miami and the Bulls can't hit that number with Thomas reserving space against the cap. So that started Thomas' weekend. Then the Bulls lost a tight game at Miami on Sunday. Thomas had four points in 21 minutes and barely played in the fourth quarter. Then, on Monday, he became upset when he was called out in a film session on Monday by Vinny Del Negro for a poor defensive rotation. That led to a stern talking-to from Bulls veteran leader Lindsey Hunter. On Tuesday morning, Thomas turned up with flu-like symptoms and was sent home from the Bulls' shootaround at the Berto Center. He did not dress for the game against the Bucks, leading to all sorts of scuttlebutt suggesting that Thomas had a "blue flu." The cherry on the cake for Thomas was the fact that his presence was really not necessary. Seriously ... if you watched that game on Tuesday, what element does Thomas provide that the Bulls were missing?
In-game Tweeting has become my new thing as I try to find ways to occupy myself in the comfortable confines of the press box at the United Center. (No beer. What would Hunter S. Thompson say?) The Bulls scored 29 points on 45 possessions in the first half and as I studied the first-half numbers, I pondered to Twitterdom, "Why no Pargo?" I was perplexed because with Rose apparently not at full strength, the Bulls' offense was bogged down. That's an understatement. Del Negro called one base set after another, with apparently no plan for attacking any potential weakness in Milwaukee's defense nor any design to take advantage of Rose's considerable prowess. Del Negro played only seven players in the first half and Pargo was not one of them. He finally entered about halfway through the third quarter.
Bulls Poss Pts oRTG
With Pargo 37 48 129.7
Without Pargo 56 35 62.5
Pargo finished with 10 points in 14 minutes and the Bulls offense really fell into line after he entered the proceedings. Pargo is an all-or-nothing kind of player. When he's on, you have to ride him for all he's worth. When he's not, you have sit him down. But you have to find out ... it was bizarre to see him sitting out the first half when the Bulls were so starved for offense.
As usual, I logged some stuff in-game with Twitter. You can follow that and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.
Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.com. See our PBP 09-10 page for more details and to purchase your copy in printed form or as a downloadable PDF.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.