The Chicago Bulls put up what could be considered the franchise's worst offensive performance since 1999 in Game 4 against the Miami Heat on Monday. Any time you're harkening back to an era in Bulls history when Kornel David was capable of leading the team in the scoring and Dickey Simpkins and Randy Brown were starters, you know you've entered truly dubious air.
Indeed, the Bulls really were that bad in Game 4. Chicago shot 19-of-74 from the field, good for 25.7 percent. They scored fewer than 70 points in a playoff game for only the second time in franchise history and finished with only one more field goal for the game than Miami did just in the paint. It got ugly, and now the Heat seem poised to put this gutsy but ultimately doomed Bulls season to rest for good in Game 5.
It's easy to look at the field goal percentage and think the Bulls simply had a rough shooting night in Game 4, and there is some truth to that. Chicago missed a host of open jumpers in the first half that contributed to its 11-point halftime deficit and finished just 2-for-17 from three-point range. Nate Robinson's 0-for-12 night got plenty of attention, as it should.
But the Bulls' troubles ran deeper than missing open shots.
Miami's defense deserves plenty of credit here. The Heat essentially beat the Bulls at their own game: attacking the ball handler in the pick-and-roll to force turnovers and start fast breaks. No team is beating Miami when it's able to get in transition, and the 19 fast-break points were a major reason Game 4 was a blowout.
Those fast-break points came thanks to some defensive scheming that should look very familiar to the Bulls. Add in the extended defense the playoffs precipitate and a team hellbent on aggressively trapping the ball handler, and it's easy to see why Game 4 turned into such a nightmare for Chicago.
Let's take a look at a few examples of Miami's pick-and-roll defense giving Chicago trouble.
Here, the Bulls have already let 11 seconds run off the shot clock without accomplishing much of anything. Chicago is attempting to run a high pick-and-pop with Robinson and Carlos Boozer, but Miami has it sniffed out the entire way.
The Bulls' first problem here is a common one: Carlos Boozer is a horrible screen-setter, and it's the cause of many broken possessions for Chicago. There was a definitive theme to the Bulls' struggles in Game 4: When action started with a Boozer screen, Chicago ball handlers simply couldn't get separation. That's what's happening in this play.
Mario Chalmers goes over the screen without much trouble at the top of the key, and Chris Bosh is in perfect position for the trap. With LeBron James showing at Boozer instead of sticking to Jimmy Butler in the corner, Miami has the play covered beautifully.
The end result is one Chicago has seen too often this series: Robinson on the ground and the Heat ready to attack. Here's the play in real time:
Here's another example of Robinson getting caught by Miami's trap. The action starts when Boozer and Robinson run a handoff on the right wing. Boozer is supposed to set a screen on Norris Cole, Robinson's primary defender, but the pick isn't strong enough and Nate quickly finds himself in no man's land.
Notice how neither Cole nor Shane Battier are interested in Boozer at all. Both attack Robinson, and now the trap is on. Battier's a foot taller than Nate, and Cole's hands are quick enough to force a strip. No one on the Bulls is in position to bail Robinson out.
Same result: Nate ends up on the ground, the Bulls turn the ball over and the Heat are off to the races.
Here's the play in real time:
The final example starts and ends the same way. Boozer sets an ineffective screen, the Heat chase and trap the ball hander to force a turnover. This time, it's Jimmy Butler who comes away as the victim.
The Bulls found success in Game 4 (and throughout the season) when the initial screen was set by Joakim Noah or Butler, but Boozer proves to be incapable of setting a decent pick.
As someone who has stood next to him, this is confounding. Boozer is about the widest person you'll ever see in your life. He is a house. If Boozer should be good at one thing, it's setting screens. But he's proven himself to lack the physicality required to accomplish the task.
With James needing little effort to get around the Boozer screen, he and Bosh are ready and waiting to trap Butler. Miami's defense again ignores Boozer completely, attacking the ball handler aggressively to force the turnover.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is often credited for devising this defensive scheme, and the Heat are masters at executing it.
Butler is effectively trapped and Chicago turns the ball over. The play ends with a breakaway dunk for James:
Without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, Bulls-Heat has never been a fair fight. Chicago simply doesn't have the talent to matchup with a Miami team that has only lost three times in the last three and a half months.
But for as vast as the talent differential is, the Heat still deserve plenty of credit. Their defense is phenomenal when it wants to be, and it's a big part of the reason they're the heavy favorites to win the NBA championship for the second season in a row.