I've posted a lot of stuff recently, so why not post some more? I, like Mel Kiper, need to find ways to make myself useful after prime time, but I don't have a gigantic chalkboard, so I use the internet instead. As a continuation of my recent commentary on "Spur-less Playoffs", I'm going to take a look at the second game in the Chicago Bulls/Miami Heat series. Since I'm pulling an editorial Tarantino and writing the introduction after I completed the rest of the article, let me be the first to apologize for the irony that the length of my writing ended up being inversely proportional to the amount of time that transpired during this particular instance of the game. As a consolation, let be suggest that you write the time spent reading off as time you didn't really want to be working anyways. You're welcome.
As the Bulls and Heat neared the conclusion of their second game, I found myself watching the sidelines with a peculiarly increasing frequency. The peculiarity of my perusal of the area immediately surrounding the Bulls bench area was something that, I felt, had an eerie correlation to the amount of attention that I was also paying to Kyle Korver, who was doing something on the basketball court. At game's end, I'm still on the fence as to what that something might have actually been, but in keeping with my ever present desire for the examination of quandaries, conundrums, and anomalies, I felt inspired to delve into the reasoning to this particular rhyme.
It's no secret around here that despite what the NBA manages to do during the regular season to promote itself as an offense-first scoring bonanza, come playoff time, the energy ratchets up considerably on the defensive side of the ball. I have a sneaky suspicion that we owe this entirely to select media personalities for their enthusiasm in pointing out "playoff fouls" to the viewing audience, and keeping the dream alive, but that's really neither here nor there. What is important, is that the palpable energy that surrounds each foray into the painted area, loose ball, and hustle play during the playoffs, is more noticeable, and with good reason. Teams are fighting tooth and nail to keep their respective seasons alive, and with the contenders having already been separated from the contenders back in mid April, the teams that remain are the teams that seem to best recognize the fragility of their post-season existence. With that in mind, let me get to Kyle Korver. I already mentioned that I had been looking at him, and each second that passes without an explanation why leaves my character and good nature open for questioning.
Kyle Korver has traditionally been the guy that teams brought out onto the floor to provide a relatively able scoring punch whenever that team's star(s) needs a breather. He's an effective bench and role player who, at close to ten years in the league, knows exactly what that role is. A career 41% three point shooter, our friend Kyle is often seen trailing the fast break, running off a screen, or standing in the corner like our old friend Bruce Bowen used to do whenever he decided to make himself useful on offense. Now, while it's fairly safe to say that Kyle knows what he's supposed to be doing out there, I found myself watching the dwindling minutes of Wednesday night's game wondering if Tom Thibodeau knows what Kyle Korver is supposed to be doing.
Without having a reliable stopwatch by my side, I was informed by Steve Kerr, who was calling the game, that Miami's vaunted Big Three had failed to score for around a ten minute span that the Bulls used to climb back into the game. I tend to pay more attention to the overall tone of the game, which may or may not be as quantifiable as the recorded statistics of a game. What I noticed during that time, was that for all of Chicago's success at climbing back into the game (eventually tying it at 73 all with around four minutes to go), they suddenly found themselves relatively flat-footed, compared to their aforementioned surge. There were several plays that just kind of seemed to fly about as well as a drunken parrot, with Taj Gibson managing to score on at least one of them, despite nothing actually going the Bulls' way prior to the basket. Kyle Korver, whose job is solely to be a scorer, was on the floor during the entirety of this time period. Taking Korver's spot on the bench at the time was none other than Carlos Boozer who, despite having a less than stellar game, does in fact fulfill more of Chicago's needs on either end of the floor. As the Bulls stagnated immediately after tying the game, I feel that his presence was sorely missed,especially as Rose repeatedly found the interior clogged with defenders, who were in turn guarding players (Gibson and Asik) whose maximum scoring range is roughly two feet.
Korver, during this time period, managed to run laps around the perimeter, be a defensive liability, and be a male model. He's been in a decently well noted shooting slump for the better part of the playoffs, averaging 3.0ppg on 20% shooting over the last 5 games in which he's played. That would include his 1-7 performance on this particular night. Normally, I have no issue with shooters, so long as they're performing their job. Korver however, just isn't producing. His presence on the floor effectively curtails the Bulls ability to score effectively, despite disguising that with the fact that he is a defense stretching threat when he's on. If he's not however, he simply becomes a siphon. He can't guard anybody, and later contributed to Lebron's tie-breaking three pointer when he sagged off on a failed defensive switch with Luol Deng, who seemed to insist that he stay on James. Korver is a shooter, and simply that. Thibodeau should've known that with Korver on the floor, it was only a matter of time before the Heat managed to exploit his presence, however accidentally.
Another complaint I have with this decision is the fact that Korver was going to be on the floor, then he, as a shooter, needs to have the ball touch his hands at least once in a possession. I'm not saying that he has a green light to shoot it every time he gets his hands on it, but one of the benefits of even a slumping shooter is the knowledge that it takes literally one made shot to right their course. Think back on all the venerated streak shooters of the past (Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, etc), and you'll note that it never took them any time at all to build momentum after a made shot. They make one, and it's like the basket becomes some mystical lake. Even mediocre defenders know this, and each time that shooter touches the ball, they'll at least half-assed-ly close out to prevent the sudden rejuvenation of their confidence. Korver, to wit, missed one shot during this stretch, and got caught by multiple defenders on the wing on another possession. That's twice in the span of about 5-6 minutes in crunch time that he was even given the chance to do anything. When you're tied up with the ticking time bomb that is the 2010-11 Miami Heat, that's just not a wise bet to make. The Bulls would've been better served to have somebody else on the floor, be it Boozer or otherwise. I voted for Boozer's presence simply because his ability to move out and hit the midrange jumper nicely compliments Rose's proclivity to bombard the paint at warp speed. You can't guard them both at the same time, and I hesitate to think that Chicago wouldn't have scored on one of those trips had Rose been playing with a less congested lane.
Despite Thibodeau's insistence on leaving Korver out on the floor, and Rose's inability/unwillingness to work the ball toward him, I felt that there was another relatively glaring personnel bumble down the stretch. In this series, Joakim Noah has got to be on the floor as much as Rose is. Despite the fact that he's not much to look at offensively, he provides such a spark that any one of literally a dozen immeasurable plays (diving for loose balls, putbacks, etc.) can occur at any point at which he's on the floor. Much like how Bruce Bowen logged a lot of minutes during Spurs title runs, Noah has to be called on to do the same. Bowen was a tireless, lock-down defender on one end, and a pretty dependable corner three on the other. Likewise, with Noah's hustle, energy, and all around willingness to accomplish for his team, he simply has to be there. They both have/had the ability to wear down the opposition with their ability to operate almost entirely within a realm of basketball intangibles, and that can't be overstated at all. It goes without saying that, short of being a fortune teller, a coach can't predict exactly when a run will take place, and more so that they'll be less inclined to stem their own tide when one does, but after stagnating like they did, there should've been a brief moment taken to tweak on the fly, and resume the assault. The Bulls had a 20 second timeout to use, and thus could've maintained their hold on the pace and possibly the tone. To me, that's a risk worth taking. When you have an opponent on the ropes, you put them away with everything you've got. Leaving anything held back is something you typically end up being brutally honest with yourself if you fail to succeed. Though Noah logged 32 minutes in Game 2, it's simply isn't enough, and the loss the Bulls took might have been reflected more clearly in that than perhaps anything else besides Rose's off-night shooting the ball, which is a nice segue.
I've always considered the point guard to be the ultimate responsibility on the floor during the course of a basketball game. I mentioned tone earlier, and the point guard, especially in big games, must be pitch perfect. They have not only the ability to dictate that tone, but to analyze, read, and construct with it. Any point guard can do this, though at the high level of the NBA, ability can often be a hinderance in the face of elite players like James or Wade. Rose though, is an elite player. Aside from winning the MVP (which I maintain Kevin Durant should've won), he has a masterful use of a multitude of tools that lay at his disposal. From the ever-desired "extra gear", to the ability to score near or far, and then to the ability to perform near literal disappearing acts with the ball, Rose is just as capable of taking over a game as Lebron or Dwyane. As a point guard however, Rose has an additional responsibility to run the proverbial show. The coach can't stand out there with his playbook, so the point guard must be able to dictate, then run those plays to the best of his ability. Returning to Korver's presence on the floor, that means that Rose should've worked the ball to his end and then back again. They no doubt have plays that are run where Korver touches the ball and doesn't shoot, and if all Rose was going to do in the end was penetrate, then he would've been making his own job easier. I can't claim to own a copy of the Bulls NBA Playbook, so anything I suggest is respectfully out of opinion, but I can't help but think I've earned the right to be correct about certain things at least once or twice a game, and this would be one of those times.
Over the course of an entire NBA playoff game, there are going to be at least a few occurrences that will be later pointed out as having been pivotal moments in that game. I know from having seen enough of them to know that the players and coaches often recognize them as they happen (as some no doubt thought when Lebron broke the tie with his late three), and are then asked to do their best to deal with or rectify the results. At times though, I also feel like the correct actions just simply aren't taken. Armchair jocks and coaches the world over would be the first to point out that they in fact know all of these situations, as a broken clock does tend to be right twice a day. I'm not saying that I'm always right about the not so obvious examples, but like I said, I feel pretty good about this one. The Bulls had momentum completely on their side, and were unable to capitalize. The late gaffe in personnel management doomed the Bulls down a stretch they couldn't complete, and that ultimately ended up costing them the game.