Chicago goes to the half court trap to trip up Hawks

Judging by the Atlanta Hawk’s defensive energy and focus, you wouldn’t have guessed they were on the second game in a brutal back to back that began with the Heat. But with 7 minutes left in the third, Atlanta was in absolute control of the Chicago Bulls. The offense wasn’t exactly humming, but certainly grinding. Snappy ball-movement and running Joe Johnson in swooping circles around a series of screeners was giving the Bulls fits. When the Bulls’ aggressive big men hedged to Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford quickly slipped back door for alley-oops.

When a team is getting pounded, sage commentators intone that the team “needs to change something.” Really, sometimes a team only needs to make open shots, or take better care of the ball. Certainly either would have helped the Bulls, but it wasn’t just execution–the Hawks were taking it to them. They were beating them to loose balls, disrupting the Bulls already choppy offense and abusing the Bulls defensive philosophy with clever reads.

The Bulls won 61 games last season, and will win a whole bunch this year because night in and night out, they simply play harder and more aggressively than their competition.

So in an apparent effort to reclaim that identity, coach Tom Thibodeau unleashed a half court trap in the second half that dramatically shifted the flow of the game. With all those long and fast players, the Bulls second unit–which often includes Luol Deng– is a near perfect group for trapping.

But the Bulls debuted the trap with Carlos Boozer, of all people, on top. That’s because the goal wasn’t to get deflections and steals, but to divert the Hawks theretofore flowing offense into channels unaccustomed to handle the volume of offensive responsibility, and to burn precious seconds off the clock before the Hawks could initiate their offense.

Think scoring against, the Bulls is tough? Try it when you don’t look at the rim until 12 seconds are left on the shot clock. It usually takes a few ball reversals, some rugged screening to score on the Bulls. A shortened shot clock encourages exactly the type of isolation play Thibodeau’s defense is designed to destroy.

In the video above, you can see Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia forced to make plays off the dribble and a distinct lack of purpose from the Hawk offense.

What you won’t see is Joe Johnson handling the ball in his preferred spots on the court, much in the way of motion from Atlanta, and a second trap from Chicago. In fact, after applying the initial double, the trapping big man simply (and somewhat casually) heads back to the rim while the other Bulls play soft defense to keep from getting beat for a layup.

It was also interesting to note that Chicago didn’t apply pressure over and over, perhaps to prevent Atlanta from becoming comfortable in handling it.

Unlike the press you’ll see most teams use when down late in a game, Thibodeau’s wasn’t a desperate decision. Rather, it was a calculated maneuver that shifted the Bulls attitude from reactor to aggressor.

Also of note: Holy moly, Derrick Rose is something else. He truly has an unparalleled ability to turn on the afterburners when his team needs it. Don’t focus on the big threes, which he’ll make sometimes and miss sometimes, but note how at the end of games he actually moves faster, his crossover becomes more violent. It’s like a great pitcher throwing 92 all game, keeping his team in it, then striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth with nine 103 mph heaters. Incredible.


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