The Washington Wizards, in two consecutive games, have come back from a double digit deficit in the second half to take the lead in the fourth quarter and eventually win. In a Survival of the Fittest series, the Wizards are clearly surviving–if not only by the skin of their teeth. They bring back a 2-0 lead to the Verizon Center and they’re hoping that they won’t have to return to Chicago in the series.
But the Bulls are going to try to come back with a vengeance. They aren’t going to go down easily and the Wizards know that. John Wall has made it clear that he still believes that the Wizards are the underdogs and that they’ve got to remain hungry in this series, but the Bulls will have that same attitude.
But if they want to give themselves a shot in this series again, they’re going to need to tune up their offense a bit. They’ve been able to do so in spurts during the first two games, but they need to have a consistency about them that allows them to close the Wizards out.
The Bulls have actually had decent offensive production throughout the first two games. Their offensive rating is about 104.0 points per possession which is well above their regular season rate. The Bulls just have to put the same offensive effort in during the second half. They’ve got a 119.2 offensive rating during the first half and just a 94.3 offensive rating in the second. And in the fourth quarter–where the Wizards have thrived–the Bulls only have a 77.0 offensive rating throughout these last two games.
They haven’t had much success without D.J. Augustin on the floor offensively, and that’s a huge part of why they’ve been so inconsistent. Augustin got consistent minutes yesterday and, until Trevor Ariza started guarding him in the 4th quarter and overtime, he was having an excellent outing. The combination of Augustin’s shooting out of the pick and roll and the Bulls great screeners in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the Bulls have found something that they can work with offensively for the rest of the series.
We’ve already discussed how the Wizards are pressuring Joakim Noah when the ball gets in his hands. So instead of letting Noah work as a facilitator out of the high post, Thibodeau made sure to get him more involved in the pick and roll game to alleviate some of that pressure and get him moving. But Noah didn’t serve as the facilitator for the Bulls’ yesterday. Instead, it was Augustin who was the offensive fulcrum for the Bulls.
Augustin started off hot throughout the first three quarters of the game before finishing with 22 shots and scoring 25 points. He was used primarily in the pick and roll game instead of being used as a backdoor cutter and in dribble handoffs–although, those were still very effective in this game.
The narrative says that Washington’s guards couldn’t keep up with Augustin, but the reality is that the Bulls were so good at setting screens that he was freed up with the defense in a 4-on-5 situation like this one.
Taj Gibson sets the perfect screen to take John Wall out of the play. It’s a very solid pick that would take most defenders out of any possession for a split second. That’s really all you need.
In the NBA playoffs, that split second can lead to a wide open, great look that could potentially change the game. TheWizards defenders were afraid to step up into Augustin and force him to drive to the rim. In hindsight, that was probably the move that they should’ve made. Augustin had way too much room and that led to looks like this.
There was no clean contest on a known jump shooter. That isn’t the right idea for an NBA defense–even if the jumper is coming from the midrange area. Augustin had the hot hand and giving him open looks just fed the flames. But what started everything was the screen that Gibson set.
And the Wizards made the mistake of fighting under the Bulls’ screens as well. Augustin was able to get off some clean looks because of that–especially outside of the pick and roll.
Andre Miller, who struggles to keep up with Augustin anyway, doesn’t trail directly behind him on his wheel route. Instead, he tries to get through a tough Joakim Noah screen–that probably could’ve been called a moving one–and fails to. The same thing happens here with this Jimmy Butler screen.
John Wall goes way under the Jimmy Butler screen against a very good three point shooter in Augustin. This is something that you can get away with on Kirk Hinrich, but something you can’t afford to do against a shooter like Augustin. He isn’t Stephen Curry, but he’ll still make you pay from deep if you leave him wide open like Wall did there.
If the Wizards aren’t going to step up and defend the Bulls’ jumpers off of the screen and roll, the Bulls should keep working with it. I doubt that the Wizards fail to make this adjustment, but they’ve still got to fight through the screens instead of completely getting removed from the play.
Their screening–and, mostly, penetration in the lane– led to offensive rebounding opportunity throughout the game. Bigs had to come up and contest on perimeter drives so that really ruined the Wizards’ chances of finishing off possessions.
All of Trevor Booker’s attention has to go to D.J. Augustin on this drive. Nazr Mohammed has a lane to fill in to crash the glass. That leads to three extra shots on one possession by the Bulls on this play. Their penetration changes everything.
Their guards are very good at holding their dribble and collapsing the defense to the paint. That forces the Wizards’ big men to play their guards and that’s how you end up with 18 second chance points on the night–and maybe more in game 3.
The Bulls have a strategy in place that could work if the Wizards don’t corral their guards off of screens and their penetration. They’re probably a bit hesitant to try and trap the ball high because of how good Joakim Noah is at finding the open man, but if things get out of hand with their penetration they may not have a choice.
The Wizards have a 2-0 lead in the series, but they absolutely cannot rest on their laurels here. The Bulls are a good team and they aren’t going down without a fight.