This was the first real test of the Wolves’ banged up season.
Yes, the Brooklyn game was fun and the Pacers were a really good measuring stick for whether or not this team could execute against one of the better defenses in the league. Not nobody know defense like the Bulls know defense. There are defensive systems and units in the NBA that can bully you and take away key components of the game for your offense. And then there’s the Chicago Bulls defense.
You have a slight chance against the Bulls, offensively. They’re going to give you jumpers, and some of those will be open. But like a pack of wild dogs in a Snausage factory, they’re going to be swarming you. They contest nearly everything and any time you get an open look against them, you have to make them pay. If you don’t, you’re wasting a modicum of good scoring opportunities. The way they pressure you is impressive.
It seems like they’re asking you to take contested midrange floaters and runners. They attack you on the perimeter to either get you to rush the shot or drive inside. Then once you drive inside, they’re pestering you from behind. Maybe they’ll poke your dribble away, or clamp down with help and try to strip you of the ball if you panic and bring it down. Or they’ll try to bother your pull-up shot from behind. And that’s when they’ve got you.
You can pull up for that quick little midrange jumper and worry about it being blocked, or you can try your luck in the paint and at the rim. The Bulls make it look like an inviting place. In fact, it looks a lot like the movie Hostel. There’s fun in the paint. There are lots of women and drinks available. You can have a fun time in the dorms, meet new people, and then head out to a local bar. In the bar, you meet a nice European lady who is just twitterpated over your unique American accent. You have a few drinks and then BOOM.
They’ve drugged you, brought you to a warehouse somewhere deep in the Ukraine and you’re chained up for rich men to get their kicks by mutilating your body in the most archaic, gruesome and barbaric of ways. THAT is the Bulls interior defense. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are just waiting to make a highlight and a spectacle of you. They’re just waiting to throw your shot into an unintended direction. When that happens, it leaves you confused as to how you got there and Stacey King starts speaking in tongues because I’m pretty sure what he’s babbling isn’t coherent.
This is what happened to the Wolves Saturday night. A block party happened in the paint. The Bulls blocked nine shots in the game with six of those coming in the second half. Heading into the game, the Wolves were making 56.1% of their shots in the restricted area. Against the Bulls, that number dropped to 50%. It’s not a huge discrepancy; they still made half of their shots inside. But the difference comes out to four points, and that makes it a one possession game at the end, assuming there is some type of vacuum dimension at play here.
There were a lot of positives in the game. Shved continued to distribute the ball well. Andrei Kirilenko continued to put up great stat lines. Nikola Pekovic had a great game inside, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The Wolves were even +1 when he was on the court. Hell, Malcolm Lee had a fantastic game, scoring nine points in 12 minutes off the bench.
The problem was everything else just fell apart. And when Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli combine for 29 points off the bench, there’s not much you can do. Those are two terrible players who ended up having a game against your team. With how banged up the Wolves are right now, two inexplicable performances combined with the slaughtering defense of the Chicago Bulls is just too much to overcome on the road.
The Wolves have much different personnel, but even as good as Minnesota has been on defense early in this season, the Bulls showed just exactly what the standard is for being a great defensive unit in this league. The Wolves probably won’t get there on a consistent basis, but we’ve seen them defend at home in an impressive way so far this season (best defensive rating at home in the league). If they can bring that to a level of what Chicago does on random nights against offensively talented teams, we’ll continue to see the steps forward.
Until then: watch your drink, don’t let a flattering foreign accent fool you, and avoid ending up in some faux mad scientist’s mutilation chair.