So, as we’ve previously discussed, last night did not quite go according to plan. Derrick Rose was supposed to make his triumphant return against the mighty Miami Heat and lead the Chicago Bulls to victory in South Beach. Alas, this was not to be.
However, as god-awful as the first half of that game was — and it was well and truly bad — there were some interesting things that came out of last night. Most notably, at least for the purposes of this piece, was the performance of the Bulls’ small lineup, featuring the trio of Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy.
Down 20 to start the fourth quarter, Tom Thibodeau turned to the aforementioned trio of wings, along with Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson. After Miami scored twice on a Ray Allen three with a hand in his face and a Norris Cole transition layup to take a 25-point lead with 10:50 to go, the Bulls found their groove. Over the next seven minutes, when Dunleavy was replaced by Carlos Boozer, they outscored the Heat 23-12.
How did they do it? Well, first off, Dunleavy woke up after being terrible in the first half and scored all 10 of his points in the fourth. That made a huge difference, because that let the Bulls space the floor properly. But the biggest thing was defense. Miami was playing small at the time as well, with Cole, Allen, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, and that allowed the Bulls to matchup perfectly. They also forced a number of turnovers, allowing them to get out in transition.
So, with that unit’s success, can we expect to see it more going forward? Well, yes and no. We are likely to see it from time to time, but it will be very matchup dependent. It’s hard to expect Deng/Dunleavy to defend power forwards for extended periods of time. But with Miami, the New York Knicks and even the Brooklyn Nets — assuming they use Andrei Kirilenko at the four to spell Kevin Garnett — figuring to use smaller lineups on a semi-regular basis, we may see it occasionally.
There’s one other small problem with the lineup that Thibs ran out there against Miami: there’s no real playmaker. Hinrich is not that guy. Spacing means nothing if nobody on your team can get into the lane. To that end, I suggest only going small in concert with Derrick Rose, or — stay with me — Marquis Teague.
Yes, I said Marquis Teague. The one thing that Teague does well is run a pick and roll. He knows how to get into the lane and make plays. Hinrich treats the lane like it’s filled with lava. I’ve been saying for a while that the Bulls should go small with their bench unit, and this game convinced me of it. Run Teague, Hinrich, Dunleavy, one of Butler/Deng and Gibson out there as the second unit and run pick and rolls all day long. Between that and the potential points to be generated in transition, they’ll bury a lot of opposing bench lineups.
Is that a perfect solution? No. The dropoff defensively from whichever of Butler and Deng sits to Teague is comparable to falling off Mt. Everest. But I think the offense would be better and that would be enough. Besides, this is the Bulls we’re talking about. I often think that Thibs could construct a competent defense from just about anyone, given enough practice time.
Essentially, I liked most of what I saw from the Bulls when they went small. There are concerns, but there’s a lot of potential here. Now we’ll just have to see how it all plays out.