Having lost three straight games for the first time all season, the Chicago Bulls are in unfamiliar, and treacherous, territory. Unless they win three straight games against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, which continue Thursday night, their season will end prematurely.
But the Bulls have been competitive in these games, even the losses. Their inexperience, and dearth of talent compared to Miami, has cost them dearly, which one observes most clearly in the struggles of league MVP Derrick Rose in the fourth of games in this series. As Sun-Times writer Herb Gould notes, the Bulls point guard "has gone 2-for-14 in the fourth quarter and overtime" during the last three games, with the Heat switching All-NBA defender LeBron James onto him and sending extra defenders if needed. Without a reliable second option--not even top-dollar free-agent addition Carlos Boozer--the Bulls have faltered with Rose simply trying to do too much.
The most recent instance came in the closing seconds of Game 4, when Rose tried to take James off the dribble, but couldn't get all the way to the basket, instead hoisting a 17-footer which clanked off the iron. The score remained tied at 85, and the Bulls went on to lose by a 101-93 final margin.
Afterward, Tom Thibodeau did what great coaches are meant to do: he stuck up for his star player. From Gould's story:
"That’s his shot," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "If he sees an opening where he can drive, we want him to drive. But if he wants to pull up, he’s made that shot all year. If it goes in, we’re all praising him. If it doesn’t, everyone wants to criticize him."
Those comments make sense on the surface, mostly because the Bulls don't have another player who can create his own shot, so Rose has to take those game-saving ones himself. But implicitly, Thibodeau suggests he won't change his strategy despite Rose's recent failures. And, with the season in the balance, perhaps he ought to.
There's also the problem that the pull-up jumper isn't Rose's best option, though Thibodeau calls it "his shot." The stat- and play-tracking service Synergy Sports Technology says Rose has shot 37.1 percent on jumpers off the dribble this season, scoring 0.815 points per shot. That accuracy ranked him 38th in the league, behind the illustrious A.J. Price, among the 45 players who averaged at least three such shots per game. And he ranked second in the league, trailing only Monta Ellis, in pull-up jumper attempts per game, with 5.4.
The latter number at least confirms part of Thibodeau's analysis; perhaps the pull-up jumper is Rose's shot after all, given how often he takes it... and he takes it frequently, more than all but one player, usually when teams load up on him and take away his driving lane to the basket.
Is here a pass he should make in those situations instead? Can he pull the ball back out and re-set the offense? Rose and Thibodeau may need to rethink their strategy here. Sometimes, you can give the ball to your best player and ask him to save you, but for Chicago, implementing that tactic--if one can even call it a tactic--hasn't paid dividends in this series.