Bulls’ 4th-quarter dominance continues vs. Raptors
Derrick Rose scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to help the Bulls set a franchise-record for most points ever in a quarter.
The Chicago Bulls scored 69 points when they were eliminated by the Washington Wizards in last year’s postseason. The Bulls scored 49 points in the fourth quarter alone against the Toronto Raptors on Monday night at the United Center, a franchise-record for most points ever scored in any quarter.
Many of the faces are different from the offensively-inept team that lost to the Wizards and the iteration of the Bulls we see now. Chicago knew it needed to upgrade the talent on the roster in order for compete for a championship and made it a point to do that this past offseason.
It started when the Bulls traded up for Doug McDermott in the draft. Then, after missing out on Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol was signed to be an upgrade for Carlos Boozer and Nikola Mirotic was finally brought over from Europe after being acquired on draft night in 2011. Chicago also nabbed Aaron Brooks to be next in the line of small backup point guards to provide a scoring punch off the bench.
But while these moves have all proven to be helpful in the Bulls’ offensive resurgence, the biggest improvements came in-house in the form of a healthy Derrick Rose and an improved Jimmy Butler. Having Rose back is the most obvious upgrade, and he scored 15 of his team-high 29 points in the monster fourth quarter on Monday night.
With all these weapons in place, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has plenty of options to go to when his team needs offense. Thibodeau has received criticism as being a stubborn coach at times, and although there’s some validity to this, he has also shown the ability to be flexible when it comes to his lineups.
We saw this in the fourth quarter against Toronto. With the Bulls and Raptors locked in a close game, Thibodeau opted to go with a lineup of Rose, Brooks, Butler, Mirotic and Joakim Noah down the stretch. Rose is still struggling to get his defense down, Brooks is a defensive minus and Mirotic can’t be trusted on that end yet, but they all make up for it on offense. With three capable ball-handlers, a legitimate stretch 4 and one of the best passing big men in the league, that unit can beat an opponent in so many ways. That’s exactly what happened on Monday night.
Rose being at his best always helps matters, and he went 6-of-6 from the field in the fourth quarter. The 2011 MVP scored on three consecutive possessions down the stretch to help give the Bulls some breathing room, and he did it using the mid-range game that was such a huge part of his success at the beginning of his career. He went 4-of-4 from mid-range in the fourth quarter, and although that isn’t sustainable every game, it was a positive to see him go to that instead of launching bad three-pointers.
Rose only had one assist in the fourth quarter, but it was a beauty and helped illustrated just how dangerous that Bulls lineup is:
The Bulls spread the floor with Mirotic and Butler in the corners and Brooks on the opposite wing of Rose. The initial Rose/Noah pick-and-roll action doesn’t go anywhere, but Lou Williams isn’t much of a match for Rose and the Bulls point guard uses a killer crossover to get past him.
Lowry is guarding Brooks, and at first it looks like he’s going to cheat over to help on Rose. But Brooks is shooting 45 percent from three on the year, and you can see Lowry freeze and even make a movement back toward Brooks to guard against a possible kick out, which eliminates any chance of effective help on Rose.
Because Rose has gotten past Williams, Jonas Valanciunas has to leave Noah under the basket to contest Rose’s drive. But since Patrick Patterson has to guard Mirotic out to the three-point line in the corner, he can’t rotate down into the lane in time to help out Valanciunas. Rose takes advantage by finding Noah with a slick dime for the easy dunk.
When it was all said and done, the Bulls shot 14-of-20 from the floor and went 19-of-22 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Nine of those free throws came in the final minute because the Raptors kept making shots and wouldn’t stop fouling, but it’s a credit to Chicago for making them to keep Toronto at bay. The Bulls shot 43-of-47 from the line over the course of the game.
In addition to Rose’s 15 fourth-quarter points, four other players scored at least six points in the frame. Brooks and Noah both had nine points, while Mirotic had eight and Butler six. For good measure, Butler also had three blocks on the evening and finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists.
With this new-and-improved offense, the Bulls are tied for seventh in the league with an offensive rating of 106.5, per NBA.com. That number jumps up to 111.7 in fourth quarters, which is fourth in the league. Chicago has outscored opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions in fourth quarters this season, good for second behind only the Phoenix Suns.
The Bulls have sagged on defense this year compared to past seasons under Thibodeau, but the majority of their struggles have come early in games. Chicago has consistently tightened its defense up in the second half, as evidenced by its 97.1 fourth-quarter defensive rating, the second-best mark in the league.
Chicago is 18-9 and trending up, and that defense can still hit another gear. The Bulls’ offense could even reach another level considering all of the injuries have made it difficult to create continuity. With this balance on both sides of the ball, Chicago has as good a chance at a championship as anybody given a relatively healthy roster.