The Chicago Bulls are one of the best defenses in the league by most standards. They’ve been known to wreak havoc, give up very little and get into the minds of their opposition. But on Sunday afternoon, it seemed like the Washington Wizards and the Chicago Bulls played a bit of role reversal.
The Wizards beat the Bulls to take a 3-1 lead on the series that seems all but over. The Bulls managed to snag one game from Washington on their home floor, but now have the odds stacked against them with only two home games left.
The Wizards did things in spurts against the Bulls today. They lead right from the tip and never gave that lead up. Trevor Ariza was the hero for the Wiz today as he scored 30 points and hit six of 10 three point shots. John Wall and Bradley Beal did a great job of keeping the pace at a maximum as well. Beal finished with 18 points on 7-13 shooting and Wall finished with 15 points and 10 assists for his first playoff double double.
But what was really impressive about the Wizards’ win was how they wreaked havoc on the Bulls’ offense by forcing them into turnovers. They did it was a bit of a subtle strategy that took the high post out of the game for the Bulls.
The Bulls are a team that likes to run a lot of high screens. Their bigs will normally shallow roll to one of the elbows or right in the middle of the eye. They specialize in making that midrange jump shot and they also facilitate their offense from there. The Bulls will continuously use Princeton offense concepts and rub off of the post with cutters. Joakim Noah is particularly good at this.
But the Wizards had a bit of a counter to that action ready for the Bulls on Sunday. They didn’t respect the Bulls guards offensively and were jumping their pocket passing lanes. This is a very dangerous thing to do because it leaves a big man on an island with a guard. It’s a huge gamble to take–especially if that pocket pass never comes.
Here, we see John Wall jumping the passing lane after Kirk Hinrich rejects a screen from Taj Gibson.
Taj Gibson was having a great game, so obviously coverage should shift toward him. The Bulls’ guards have been rejecting screens all throughout the series. This forces the Wizards into a situation where they have to switch and that allows penetration and offensive rebounding on these shot attempts.
But there, Wall funnels Hinrich into Drew Gooden and sags back a bit.
Wall trails the play and makes the passing lane appear open. He uses his elite speed and recovery ability to pick off Hinrich’s bounce pass to Gibson. This ends up turning into an easy two points on the other end.
You can see the exact same play here on the other siof the floor.
There, Wall pressures Hinrich into the paint by staying on his back. He sees Hinrich looking back for a passing angle and then begins to sag back and wait for the pass. Once he drops back, Hinrich throws the pass and Wall snatches it. This was the theme for the Wizards on Sunday as they pummeled the Bulls building a lead as much as 23 points.
The Wizards scored 26 points off of the 16 turnovers that the Bulls afforded them. They continued to make plays like the ones above throughout the afternoon. The Wizards did the same thing in the play below. Although it didn’t result in a fastbreak for Washington, it forced the Bulls Hinrich into a place that he wasn’t comfortable going.
Throughout the series the Chicago guards had been stellar in situations where they needed to draw the defense. They were collapsing everyone into the paint and generating offensive rebound opportunity for Noah and Gibson. The Wizards’ bigs made the adjustment of staying square and preventing them from getting into the lane.
In the play above, you can see that John Wall sags back with Noah instead of trying to regain position on Hinrich.
Instead of staying with the guards, the Wizards’ perimeter defenders decided to get into their passing lanes and disrupt the flow of their offense. The Bulls need that structure to function on the offensive end of the floor. The Wizards were focused on collapsing into the paint and closing off passing lanes available to the Bulls. In the end, it worked out for them.
They were able to get into transition and make the Bulls pay for turning the ball over. In a series where baskets aren’t going to come easy the transition game becomes a pivotal point. The Wizards will have a chance to close the series out on Tuesday night.