The Chicago Bulls are known for their defense. That's who they are. That's how they are constantly in the mix atop the Eastern Conference, despite what is typically a ho-hum offensive attack. Last year, the Bulls were sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, giving up 103.2 points per 100 possessions. The year before that, they were second with a 98.3 defensive rating. In 2010-11, Tom Thibodeau's first year, they were ranked No. 1, via Basketball-Reference.
But through the first four games this season, the Bulls were 1-3 and had given up 98 points per game. Their defense was letting them down, surrendering the highest three-point percentage in the league.
After Chicago's win Saturday night against the then-undefeated Indiana Pacers, the Bulls look like the team we've seen the past three seasons. In the last four games they have surrendered just 82 points a contest and have won by an average of 17.8 points per game. Chicago's defensive rating is 97.1 over the stretch, good for third in the league.
Sometimes a team needs only one game to get things back on track. For Chicago, that game came on Nov. 8 in a home game against Utah. The Jazz, who came to the United Center 0-5, scored 73 points on the night on 29.4 percent shooting. Only three Jazz players scored in double figures and only Gordon Hayward (15) scored more than 10 points.
On Nov. 11, the Cleveland Cavaliers came to down. Cleveland, who was 3-4 and didn't hate each other at the time, scored just 81 points. Kyrie Irving, the team's budding young superstar, finished 5-of-19 from the field. Out of everyone who cracked the rotation for the Bulls, only Derrick Rose finished with a defensive rating above 100 on the night.
Rose sat out Friday Nov. 15 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, but Chicago's defensive continued to pummel its opponents. The Raptors' DeMar DeRozan scored 37 and Rudy Gay dropped 20, but no other player scored more than six points and only seven people even scored. Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry scored just six points on 15 shots as the Bulls steamrolled their way to their third-straight win.
But the real test came Saturday night against the undefeated (9-0) Pacers. Rose was announced active just moments before gametime. The former MVP, who had been struggling to regain footing all year, finally looked normal. He scored 20 points, shot 6-of-11 from three-point range, and didn't turn the ball over once. And again, Chicago's defense was stifling.
The Pacers 94 points is a little misleading. They scored just 59 points through three quarters before dropping 35 in a fourth quarter filled with garbage time. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer played just five minutes each in the fourth quarter, Luol Deng played for four minutes, Derrick Rose -- who needs any time on the court he can get -- played for eight minutes, and Jimmy Butler didn't play a single minute.
Through the first there periods, Indiana shot just 32.8 percent from the floor. If the game had continued at that pace, 19 points a quarter, Indiana would have scored 78 points, not 94.
There was a little worry over Chicago's slow defensive start. The Bulls have never been a team to rely on their offense, so the shooting woes were a little less worrisome. Chicago has always made its money is on the defensive end, and that defense is back.