TrueHoop: Carlos Boozer

The book on Tom Thibodeau

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
10:17
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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Tom Thibodeau
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau: The defense-first drill sergeant.

Name: Tom Thibodeau

Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1958

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
Thibodeau’s obsessive, workaholic personality has an unmistakable presence on the sideline of every game and throughout the Bulls’ organization, but his greatest value is as a defensive tactician. No coach in the NBA understands how a team works as one to close down driving angles and to deny the offense’s preferred move better than Thibodeau. Playing the kind of defense that Thibodeau teaches demands an extreme work ethic from his players, so differentiating between strategy and emotional commitment is tough. However, his most significant contribution to any team will be the X’s and O’s.

Is he intense or a "go along, get along" type?
Thibodeau is one of the most intense men in the NBA. His defensive system is built on hard and fast rules, and there’s no negotiating. Thibodeau won’t coddle anyone, not even a star like Derrick Rose, and needs players who have the mental toughness to get on board with both the style of play and style of communication that Thibodeau brings.

Practices are run with military precision, and Thibodeau is known to work through Saturday nights in the offseason. He's a no-nonsense coach, but his personal authenticity and the success of his strategies endear him to his players.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
He relies on systems, especially on defense.

Though similar, Thibodeau’s defensive system in Chicago is a bit different than the one he installed as a defensive assistant in Boston. Instead of using a hard show on pick-and-rolls -- something no big man did better than Kevin Garnett when Thibodeau coached him from 2007 to 2010 -- the Bulls almost uniformly “down” pick-and-rolls. This means the big man hangs back a bit more while the guard directs the ball handler to him and toward the baseline. One effect of this modification, which allows the Bulls bigs to remain closer to the paint, is that Chicago has been a top-10 defensive rebounding team since Thibodeau took over in 2010.

More generally, Thibodeau is not an especially creative in-game coach. Though he is inventive in his meticulous pregame preparation, his adjustments during games are just OK, especially on the offensive end. With all his success, it’s sometimes hard to remember 2012-13 is Thibodeau’s third season as an NBA head coach. This is one skill that could really evolve as he gains experience.

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
The Decider. Thibodeau communicates well with his players but, especially during games, expects his players to follow his directives, not discuss them.


Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Explosive scorer. This is a controversial distinction for Thibodeau, who, despite being a defensive ace, has a tendency to give big minutes to players like Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton, two guys who contribute real value only on the offensive end. For example, facing Miami in the 2011 playoffs, Thibodeau struggled to decide whether to lean on Boozer or defensive stopper Taj Gibson. When he left Boozer in for crunch time, the Heat successfully and repeatedly attacked him in pick-and-rolls.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
Thibodeau prefers a set rotation, but he will make quick substitutions, especially when it comes to playing Luol Deng and Joakim Noah abnormally long minutes.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use grizzled veterans?
Thibodeau has a clear affinity for veterans, even when it may benefit the team in the long term to give younger players more minutes early in the regular season.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Thibodeau’s defensive system is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy in the NBA. He is often credited with being the first coach to fully leverage the abolition of illegal defense by loading up the strong side box while having the weakside defenders zone the back side of the defense. In effect, Thibodeau's defenses force ball handlers -- whether in isolation or in side pick-and-rolls -- to the baseline and then send a second defender from the weakside over to the strong side block to cut off dribble penetration.

He is especially detail-oriented when it comes to pick-and-roll defense, getting down to the specific angles that each defender’s feet should be pointing. Thibodeau wants to send everything away from the middle of the court and force lob passes or bounce passes out to the perimeter, allowing defenders more time to get back to their men.

Off the ball, every defender in the Thibodeau system will have his hands up and active, with arms stretched as wide as possible. The goal isn’t actually to get deflections, though that happens. The real objective is to take away the first passing option of the offense -- to make the ball handler hesitate and throw a slow pass rather than whipping a chest pass to an open shooter. This gives the defense more time to recover from screens and cuts and often forces the ball away from the offense’s primary option on a given play.

Thibodeau knows he can't ask his defenders to do everything, rather he teaches them to take away certain high-percentage options for the offense. When everyone does their jobs, the odds tilt heavily in the defense's favor.

Most of Thibodeau’s offensive sets are not rudimentary, but he tends to keep things basic in big moments. It’s not uncommon to see some brilliant flex-based sets early in the game devolve into a steady diet of standard pick-and-rolls and pin-downs by the fourth quarter. He makes solid adjustments from game to game. For instance, he used Noah in the middle of the court to unlock Miami’s pick-and-roll defense in their 2011 playoff series, but Thibodeau is not known for drawing up brilliant offensive game plans on the fly.

What were his characteristics as a player?
Thibodeau’s playing career ended with his last game for the Division III Salem State University Vikings. His team won its league in his junior and senior seasons, and Thibodeau captained the team in his final year. An odd note: According to Salem State’s records, Thibodeau shot just 48.9 percent from the free throw line as a senior.

Which coaches did he play for?
Art Fiste (Salem State).

What is his coaching pedigree?
In the NBA alone, Thibodeau has worked with Bill Musselman, Jerry Tarkanian, Rex Hughes, John Lucas, Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers. He was a longtime assistant to Van Gundy in New York and Houston before joining Rivers in Boston.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Running an ultra-high-end personal security company.




The spirit of the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract was summoned for this project.

Friday Bullets

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
2:18
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Absent Derrick Rose, Bulls become Pacers

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
3:16
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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Friday Bullets

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
4:37
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Bulls perform their own Magic trick

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
12:35
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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The Magic had a terrible shooting night in their loss to the Bulls.
It seems appropriate that Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, known as a defensive whiz, became the fastest head coach to 100 wins with a game that will live among the team’s best-ever defensive performances.

The Bulls set a regular-season team record for the fewest points allowed in a game, yielding only 59 to the Orlando Magic.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Thibodeau got to 100 wins in 130 games, one game faster than Avery Johnson did. Thibodeau was also the quickest Bulls coach to 100 wins with the team, a dozen games quicker than Phil Jackson.

On a night in which the Bulls were without Derrick Rose, they were paced by Carlos Boozer’s 24 points. Boozer averaged 11.3 points and 8.0 rebounds on 40 percent shooting in his first four games against the Magic as a member of the Bulls, but in his last three, he’s averaged 23.3 points and 11.0 rebounds on 58 percent shooting.

Orlando had significant issues in catch-and-shoot situations on Monday night. The Magic were 4-for-19 on such shots against Chicago.

They are not the first opponents to struggle against the Bulls on those sorts of shots. Bulls opponents are shooting 36 percent on catch-and-shoot shots. The resulting 0.88 points allowed per shot ranks second-best in the NBA (the Celtics are a hair better—0.87 points allowed per shot).

Holding Orlando to that sort of shooting performance is not easy. The Magic rank fourth in the NBA in points per catch-and-shoot shot.

The Magic made their own dubious mark, as Elias noted that they joined the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets as the only team in the shot-clock era (since the 1954-55 season) to score fewer than 60 points twice in a game in a single season. The Magic were held to 56 points by the Celtics on January 23.

The Magic did help the Bulls out by going 7-for-18 from the free throw line. The Magic’s 39 percent effort was the worst for any team that took at least that many attempts in a game in the NBA this season.

It was also the second-worst free throw shooting performance in Magic team history.

The Bulls did arguably have one defensive game more memorable than this one. They allowed 54 points to the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. That season ended with the team celebrating a championship.

Lineups that are killing it in the East

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
2:31
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Chicago BullsChicago Bulls
PG Derrick Rose  SG Ronnie Brewer  SF Luol Deng  PF Carlos Boozer  C Joakim Noah
Minutes Played: 284
Offensive Rating: 111.6 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 91.8 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
In 2010-11, the Bulls were a middling offensive team that relied on one dominant mode of attack -- a dynamic Rose at the top of the floor. This season, Rose is still the prized asset in the Bulls' scheme, but he's orchestrating a deliberate, savvy offense that's expanded its breadth.

This unit plays at a plodding pace of 90.9 (which would rank them last in the NBA), but it's a tight, killing-you-slowly kind of assault. How many teams pressure you with a point guard like Rose, who collapses the defense anytime he works off the dribble, but can also feed the post and have three quality options from there? When you watch these Bulls move around the court with purpose, it's hard not to see hints of the best of the Deron Williams-Boozer era in Utah -- only better, because Noah's screens and ball skills are so exceptional for a big man.

This group also features two world-class athletes in Deng and Brewer who understand how to play off a penetrator, as well as a couple of big guys who know how to hit a cutter. Ever since Derrick Rose arrived on the scene in Chicago, we've been hearing about how the Bulls have a fatal hole at shooting guard. Bulls fans, you have your shooting guard. His name is Ronnie Brewer.

The rap on Brewer has always been that he can't space the floor. Fair enough, because Brewer is a subpar shooter from beyond 10 feet. But elite teams find workarounds for flawed players, and the Bulls have maximized Brewer's many strengths beautifully. Spacing is a nice attribute to have in an offense, but movement is woefully underrated in today's game. And you won't find a lot of players who move more intently off the ball than Brewer. He might not hit a shot for you from 24 feet, but he never stops moving. Feed, clear, cut and repeat.

Would there be more space for Rose to work if he had a couple of wings who were better conventional shooters than Brewer and Deng? Possibly, but there are more ways to bludgeon an opponent than a drive-and-kick. Putting bodies in motion and forcing opponents into bad decisions with endless actions has its virtues.

How it works defensively
The vaunted Tom Thibodeau defense is no longer an exotic mystery cooked up in some lab in Cambridge, Mass. It's simply standard operating procedure for several NBA defenses -- but few, if any, of the imitators run it with the precision this unit does.

On nearly every half-court possession, the Bulls' defense has one objective -- keep the ball out of the middle of the floor. Once they have you confined to the sideline and you try to, for example, run a pick-and-roll, the Bulls will strangle you like a python by trapping, then bringing a third defender to the ball side of the paint to add further pressure.

What makes this unit particularly deadly when they implement this defense? Let's start with Joakim Noah. Bringing three guys to the ball is all well and good, but it doesn't help if you don't have two defenders who can cover the rest of the floor in what's essentially a two-man zone. There isn't a big man who performs this task better than Noah. He instinctively knows where the offensive threat is coming from -- when the ball will be reversed out of that pressure, to whom it will go to and how to best help without compromising the system.

Throw in two lanky defenders like Brewer and Deng, whose length, agility and smarts allow them to both stifle defenders on the ball or work as Noah's partner in that backside zone, and you have the components for the most difficult defense to score against in the NBA.


Orlando MagicOrlando Magic
PG Jameer Nelson  SG J.J. Redick  SF Hedo Turkoglu  PF Ryan Anderson  C Dwight Howard
Minutes Played: 178
Offensive Rating: 118.3 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 98.4 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
How good has this group been with the ball? There isn't a five-man unit that's recorded a higher offensive rating or a larger point differential in its favor. This isn't Orlando's most-used unit -- that would be the starters with Jason Richardson at shooting guard instead of Redick (402 minutes on the floor versus 178). The starting five aren't chopped liver, but the Redick-at-the-2 unit blows them away.

In many respects, this unit evokes the halcyon days of the Magic, circa 2009. Stan Van Gundy is one of the great pragmatists in the league. He deftly appraises his personnel on the floor and always seems to find a way to maximize those players' strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. These are familiar schemes that leverage Howard's presence down low to open up the perimeter for the Magic's snipers along the perimeter -- specifically Redick and Anderson.

Many times it starts with a high pick-and-roll with Nelson and Howard. The Magic get penetration or a deep feed to Howard in the paint, which forces the defense to collapse. When that happens, you know the drill -- a kickout to Redick or to a lifted Anderson for a clean look at a 3-pointer. Nelson has also developed a nice pick-and-pop rhythm with Anderson to find him open shots.

Other times, they initiate offense through Turkoglu on the left side. Turkoglu's efficiency numbers have fallen off since 2009 (he's shooting poorly and turning the ball over too frequently), but he's still capable of putting the ball on the floor and finding shots for others, and getting Howard the ball where he likes it. Redick is in constant motion in the Magic's half-court sets, breezing around baseline screens, getting free via pin-downs and using his escape dribble along the perimeter to find space.

And that's how an NBA unit chalks up a gaudy true shooting percentage of 60.5 percent, even with a below-average free throw rate.

How it works defensively
This unit earns its money on the offensive end -- a 98.4 defensive rating isn't anything to be ashamed of, but doesn't qualify as elite. Still, these five are getting a sufficient number of stops.

Unlike their contemporaries up in Chicago, Orlando places more of a premium on chasing shooters off the 3-point line, and they have the luxury of staying at home because they have a very large man with very broad shoulders manning the basket area and cleaning up any blow-bys that might occur. How is that going? Opponents are shooting 24 percent from beyond the arc against this unit and converting only 4.8 3-pointers per game. That is what chopped liver tastes like.

As imposing as Howard is under the basket, altering shots and intimidating, his pick-and-roll defense is also a key ingredient to this unit's defensive success. The Magic don't need to rotate all that often and, when they do, Howard recovers promptly to the back line and those rotators can immediately dash back to the perimeter where they can contest long shots with a close out, or just stagnate the offense.

One-on-one defense can occasionally be problematic, but Redick's tenacity -- both on-the-ball and chasing rabbits like Ray Allen around screens -- is vastly underrated. Turkoglu is no Tony Allen, but his length and awareness of where Howard is lurking makes him an adequate defender, as well. Finally, Nelson is a sturdy fireplug who can use his strength to bother opposing point guards, though he does yield his share of blow-bys.


Miami HeatMiami Heat
PG Mario Chalmers  SG Dwyane Wade  SF LeBron James  PF Chris Bosh  C Joel Anthony
Minutes Played: 389
Offensive Rating: 109.9 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 94.7 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
This past summer, Erik Spoelstra immersed himself in a single exercise: Examine how he could make life easier for the Heat's offense by diversifying their attack. In 2010-11, Spoelstra grappled with several strategies -- elements of the Rick Adelman's corner offense, "elbow sets" run through Bosh with multiple triggers and even some old Hubie Brown sets to free up shooters. The Heat finished the season as the NBA's third-ranked offense.

Spoelstra came to a realization, one that didn't necessarily conform to his natural instincts: The Heat could do better, and to achieve that improvement, it would require less conventional structure. He has freed up James and Wade, made transition opportunities and early offense priorities (Miami has gone from 21st in pace last season to 12th this season) and found new ways to space the floor.

So far as Wade and James, they have one imperative -- catch the ball and attack and don't allow the defense to set. No more dawdling at the top of the floor, waiting for stuff that never materializes. Off that, the Heat have found gold with Chalmers' vastly improved outside shot. The Heat were assembled with the idea that James and Wade would have quality shooters primed for kickouts, and with Chalmers, they have a teammate shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point-land.

Fewer sets are being run through Bosh at the high post with this unit, though he's still able to facilitate when the pace settles into a more deliberate, half-court game. Many of those sets that started with Bosh at the high post are now being initiated with James at the "Karl Malone" spot off the mid-post. Meanwhile, Bosh and Anthony screen with the best of them -- especially to lend space for Wade to attack -- and Bosh is still superb at lifting to a spot 18 feet away from the hoop for a no-dribble J.

How it works defensively
Spoelstra is still experimenting and tinkering with the Heat's schemes. Many a night, Miami is flirting with a Thibodeau-style strongside strategy, but one with a bit less structure and more freedom for James and Wade to rove. This isn't coming without costs: This unit is giving up 19.2 3-point attempts per 48 minutes, and opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc in the process.

The Heat are aware of the shortcoming and seem willing to tolerate a few gimmes on the perimeter in service of their larger defensive goal -- create chaos. That means more ball pressure than ever from Chalmers, and Bosh and Anthony jumping out with impunity on every ball screen. When it comes to defending the pick-and-roll, Bosh and Anthony might be the best big man tandem in the business at showing hard and recovering to the right spot on the back line.

Most of all, Spoelstra is encouraging James and Wade to operate as free safeties in what can be described as a quasi-two-man zone. Spoelstra's nature favors order over chaos and he traditionally has discouraged gambling, but he's come to appreciate that doubling-down on his team's athleticism makes good sense.

The results are there. Opponents are turning the ball 16.8 times per 48 minutes against this group. More impressive, the unit generates 23.3 points per 48 minutes off these turnovers and 22.5 fast-break points per 48 minutes. There simply isn't a defense in the world that can stop James and Wade in the open floor and the Heat's newfound guerrilla defense has maximized these opportunities.

Seats of no particular temperature

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
5:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
In a couple of weeks, we'll start hearing the inevitable chatter about hot seats in the NBA. The formula for who rides the hot seat is pretty reliable. The coach's team has underperformed and his critics believe he has been given ample time to succeed. His contract can't be too onerous because most teams don't enjoy subsidizing the salaries of broadcast commentators, which is the landing spot for many departed coaches.

There's a certain allure to death pools and elimination reality shows, but there are far more interesting sideshows this season than the guillotine. Some of the coaching ranks’ highest achievers have fascinating challenges in front of them:

Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Challenge: Use the Bulls' ball-moving big men

Among the unintended consequences of winning 62 games and coach of the year in your inaugural season as a head coach are the expectations that bubble to the surface in Season 2. That's Thibodeau's burden as the Bulls try to topple the Heat for the East's crown.

The Bulls' defense can't get much better than it was in 2010-11, but their offense finished the season as the league's 12th-most efficient. Derrick Rose is a domineering point guard who thrives in isolation and in high pick-and-rolls, so it's tempting to leave well enough alone and allow the MVP to do his thing. But there's something missing from the Bulls' half-court offense, deficiencies that became glaring against Miami (and at times, against Atlanta and Indiana) last spring.

The Bulls' personnel is simply too skilled, too versatile and too big not to finish as a top-10 offense. In Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls feature two of the best and smartest passing big men in the game. Their ability to create opportunities out of the high post should give the Bulls a ton of options. Then there's Rip Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng -- three wings who have the capacity to run a combined 25 miles of cuts, curls and flares over the course of a game.

With a team populated with this combination of talent, there's really no excuse for stagnation. Can the Bulls find their groove this season?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Challenge: Life in a world in which Tim Duncan doesn't warrant a double-team

There's still no better technician in basketball than Popovich, and last season's 62-win regular season was a testimonial to that.

So much of what the Spurs have been running over the past decade or so revolves around the Spurs' guards looking for Duncan on the block early and late in sets. Traditionally, defenses have been so attuned to Duncan's presence that either A) they end up leaving seams through which Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can glide to the rim or B) they front Duncan, which leaves the back door open or C) they're forced to double-team Duncan on the block, which opens up clean looks on the perimeter for the Spurs' snipers.

The Spurs have been adjusting to a world in which Duncan's rim rum, deep seal and quick spin no longer compose the league's most deadly attack, and haven't missed a beat. They finished second in offensive efficiency last season by putting more of a premium on spacing and creating double gaps for dribble penetration. Watching that process continue this season will make for compelling basketball.

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Challenge: Keeping the faith

There isn't a coach in the NBA who took a more sober look at his playbook during the offseason than Spoelstra.

As narrated by Tom Haberstroh last week, the Heat's cerebral head coach went on a coaching tour that included a couple of visits with the architect of the Oregon Ducks' spread offense -- which is played on the gridiron. Take that spread offense, add a few parts Rick Adelman and a dash of John Calipari, and you have the Heat's new high-octane offense that has racked up a scintillating 207 possessions in two games against slow-pokes Dallas and Boston.

The Heat's early success must be liberating for Spoelstra, as his team has taken to the change in philosophy like pigs in slop. Spoelstra is one of the league's most resourceful coaches -- a coach whose strength has always been preparation, precision and tactical strategy. But what happens if the Heat struggle?

Spoelstra thrives on order, and might be tempted to impose a little of it on his team. The trick for him will be finding that equilibrium between structure and freedom, a place where the Heat can still exploit teams with speed and athleticism but have a sense of purpose when the game situation demands it. That will mean remaining faithful to the principles of pace and space and keeping his foot off the break -- but also figuring out how to slip wrinkles into the offense so that it doesn't fly off the rails.

Miami rides Heat wave to win East

May, 27, 2011
5/27/11
1:05
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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Including the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were 53-0 when leading by double-digits in the fourth quarter. So, with only 3:14 remaining in Game 5, and the Bulls leading by 12 points a win appeared all but certain.

The Miami Heat had other plans though, finishing the game on an 18-3 run to advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.

According to 10,000 simulations done by Accuscore.com, the Heat had just a 1 percent chance of winning the game with 3:14 remaining.

Just like it's been all season, the "Big Three" for Miami were at the center of it all, scoring 69 of the team's 83 points, including the last 33.

It wasn't all good for the trio though; through three quarters they combined for as many field goals as turnovers (13).

The main culprit was Dwyane Wade, who committed nine turnovers to tie his playoff career-high and the franchise playoff record.

However, along with LeBron James, the pair came alive scoring 22 points in the final frame, while connecting on their last six field goal attempts, three of which came from behind the 3-point line.

More impressive, and possibly more vital, was the work they did on the defensive end shutting the Bulls down in the half court over the final three minutes.

Miami forced Chicago to commit two turnovers and held them to 1-for-4 shooting down the stretch. On the final possession of the game, despite taking over possession with 16.8 seconds remaining, the best shot the Bulls could come up with was a contested 3-point field goal taken by Derrick Rose.

Chicago's offensive inefficiencies down the stretch speak to the Bulls lack of a reliable second option behind Rose, who took 29 shots, over 35 percent of the team's total field goal attempts in Game 5.

Carlos Boozer, brought in this offseason to help anchor some of the offensive load, was on the bench the entire fourth quarter, along with Joakim Noah. The Bulls finished the season with Kurt Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson on the court with Rose.

Boozer and Noah combined for just 10 points in more than 50 minutes. Without help from the duo, the Bulls finished with a series-low 26 points in the paint, 16 of which came in the first quarter.

In the battle of the past two MVP's, James had the upperhand in the series. After going 0-for-5 from the floor with a turnover when guarded by James in Game 4, Rose struggled again, going 1-for-10 with two turnovers in Game 5. Rose shot 6.3 percent from the floor in the series when defended by James, lowest among any player that defended him on five or more plays.

For the series, Rose really struggled down the stretch, shooting just 21.4 percent from the field after the third quarter. This was magnified down the stretch of games 4 and 5, both close battles, in which Rose was just 3-for-17 combined in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Bulls ride Boozer into conference finals

May, 13, 2011
5/13/11
3:20
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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The Chicago Bulls dominated from start to finish, defeating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 to close out the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998 (Michael Jordan's last season with the team).

For the first time in the series Derrick Rose did not lead the Bulls in scoring. Carlos Boozer bounced back from a tough Game 5 performance (11 points) with a team-high 23 points to go along with 10 rebounds.

In his first 10 postseason games with the Bulls, Boozer was averaging just 10.7 points per game while shooting just over 41 percent from the field. On Thursday, he shot 62.5 percent from the field on his 16 attempts.

According to video tracking, Boozer did much of his damage in Game 6 with the jump shot. Boozer made 7-of-10 jumpers in Game 6, including each of his first six attempts.

The seven made jump shots almost doubled the total that he had made in the first five games of the series (4-8 FG in Games 1-5).

Boozer also chipped in with five assists, his most in a game this postseason. The entire Bulls team shared the ball well in Game 6 -- 34 of their 41 field goals (82.9 percent) came off of assists.

The 82.9 percent mark is the highest by any team to clinch a playoff series on the road in the last 15 seasons. It was the highest by any team in a clinching game since the 2003 Spurs assisted on 24 of 29 made field goals at home in Game 6 of their first round series against the Phoenix Suns.

As for the Hawks, they continued to struggle shooting outside the paint, which doomed them in their losses during the series. Atlanta scored 52 of its 73 points either in the paint (34 points) or on the free throw line (18).

Atlanta was just 10-for-41 on shots outside the paint, including just 1-for-11 from three. For the series, the Hawks were 11-for-51 from 3-point range in the four losses, while making 11 of their 24 attempts in their two victories.

Atlanta is now 0-15 all-time in the Conference Semifinal round since the current conference format was established to begin the 1970-71 season. In fact, since moving to Atlanta from St. Louis, the Hawks have yet to win more than one postseason series in any single playoff year.

Unlikely combo leads Bulls in fourth

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
12:38
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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It must have seemed like déjà vu for the Chicago Bulls, with 69 points through three quarters and entering the fourth with a slim lead. But, after being outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Chicago bounced back to defeat the Atlanta Hawks with a strong finish in Game 5.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Bulls allowed the Hawks to shoot 65 percent from the field and got sloppy, committing five turnovers. On Tuesday night, Chicago held Atlanta to 31.3 percent field goal shooting in the final frame thanks to an unlikely combination of players.

At 1:58 of the third, Carlos Boozer joined Joakim Noah on the bench, where the two would remain the rest of the game. The Bulls trotted out a five-man unit of Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. They played the next 12 minutes and 53 seconds together, turning a one-point lead into a 12-point lead. Prior to Game 5, that unit played just four minutes together in the playoffs.

Gibson scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, while Asik grabbed three rebounds and added a blocked shot. They led a bench that contributed 13 fourth-quarter points in Game 5 after scoring just four points in the last quarter of Game 4.

Rose (33 points) continued his strong postseason play, notching his third consecutive 30-point performance. He really turned it on to begin the fourth, scoring or assisting on eight of the Bulls' first nine baskets. He finished with 11 points and three assists in the fourth.

For the Hawks, their struggles shooting from distance hurt them in Game 5, particularly the duo of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.

In order for Atlanta to have success against Chicago, the Hawks need Crawford and Johnson to make jump shots. The two were just 3-for-14 from 15-plus feet on Tuesday.

In the Hawks two wins this series, the pair have shot over 53 percent from 15 feet and beyond. In the three losses, they have shot only 30 percent from that range, scoring less than 10 points per game from that distance.

The Hawks struggled from deep, going just 1-for-12 from 3-point range, with Johnson and Crawford combining to go 1-for-9. Atlanta is just 10-for-40 from 3-point range in its three losses during the series, while 11-for-24 in its two wins.

Grizzlies claw way into series lead

May, 7, 2011
5/07/11
10:24
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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Entering the fourth quarter, the young Memphis Grizzlies found themselves down by 13 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the franchise’s first ever Conference Semifinal home game. From there, Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies defense took over as Memphis grabbed a 2-1 series lead.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 23-10 in the fourth quarter including a 15-4 run that closed the quarter and forced overtime. The Thunder’s 10 points were tied for the third-fewest in a postseason fourth quarter since 2005. Over the duration of the fourth quarter and overtime the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 38-17 thanks to an 18-to-8 points-in-the-paint discrepancy and a +4 turnover ratio.

During that span Randolph scored seven of his 21 points and boarded seven of his 21 rebounds. Randolph not only recorded his first career 20-20 postseason game, but he is the first player to do so this postseason. It's also the first 20-20 game in the postseason by a Grizzlies player, and Randolph becomes the first NBA player to do so since Carlos Boozer had 22 and 20 against the Denver Nuggets last season while with the Utah Jazz.

As well as things went for Randolph and the Grizzlies in the game’s final two frames, the same can’t be said for the Thunder’s dynamic duo as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for eight points (3-of-17 FG) over the final 17 minutes.

Durant received a touch on 40.6 percent of Oklahoma City’s 32 possessions over the fourth quarter and overtime period, but was just 2-for-10. He may have forced some looks as there were two stretches where the league’s leading scorer did not touch the ball for over two minutes on offense. There were also five possessions where Westbrook shot without passing.

Entering Game 3, Durant had been tremendous in the final five minutes of regulation and OT, shooting over 50 percent from the floor compared to just 26 percent for Westbrook. Both struggled down the stretch on Saturday, combining to go 0-for-10, with the lone points coming on a pair of Westbrook free throws.

Overall Durant finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds while Westbrook recorded 23 points and 12 assists. He also had seven turnovers, including five in the fourth quarter and OT. It's the seventh time this postseason that Durant and Westbrook have each scored at least 20 points, the highest total of any set of teammates.

Game 4 is back in Memphis where the Grizzlies are 4-0 this postseason (0-6 all-time entering 2011). And if that wasn’t daunting enough consider that in the history of the NBA playoffs, there have been 178 instances in which a best-of-7 series was tied at one after two games. When the home team wins Game 3, it has gone onto win the series 70.7 percent of the time.

Not a Hollywood ending

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
7:18
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Kevin Love
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
The Suns' dreary record will keep Steve Nash from an eighth career All-Star berth.

Editor's note: Updated late Friday to reflect David Stern's choice of Kevin Love as Yao Ming's injury replacement.

The 2010-11 West All-Stars

Starters
Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony
Kobe Bryant
Chris Paul
Yao Ming* (injured)

Reserves
Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol
Manu Ginobili
Blake Griffin
Kevin Love*
Dirk Nowitzki
Russell Westbrook
Deron Williams

(* Love replaces injured Yao)

So, who is missing from that list? Let's look at some of the players who will be most chapped to learn they won't be headed to Los Angeles to strut their stuff on Presidents Day weekend.

Kevin Martin
If Yao Ming were healthy and productive, there's a chance the Chinese audience would have voted this guy a starter like it did in the past for Tracy McGrady. To say he scores efficiently is a vast understatement. He shoots 3s as well as any heavy-volume shooter and leads the league in free throws made. And while he has the reputation of a standstill shooter, his game winner last night -- an athletic and-1 over Al Jefferson -- is an integral part of his game, too. Were he more selfish, his scoring totals would make him an obvious pick, but he wouldn't be as helpful to his team.

LaMarcus Aldridge
How amazing is ex-Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard? The team's two best players go down, and a third emerges as a double-double monster and leader of a playoff-caliber team. On sheer production, Aldridge is on the bubble, especially when you factor in how he started the season (and, for that matter, his career). And it sure doesn't help that his team is middling and plays games that start incredibly late for a lot of voters. However, here's what you're missing: All-Star games are about stellar plays, a good hunk of which are lobs. Not sure anybody finishes more lobs than this long, fast leaper. It would have been pretty.

Monta Ellis
Turn off your inner critic for a moment. Speak not of efficiency, nor wins and losses. Take a deep breath. Go to your happy place. Listen to the airy music. And just watch what this guy does: He takes big piles of nothing and turns them into and-1s. He takes your lazy passes and makes them steals and dunks. He takes double-teams and splits them. He takes your slow defender and makes him fall over. He takes your outstretched arms, and, little though he is, shoots over them and hits every time. At least, that's how it goes in the highlight reel. He'd be fun to watch in Los Angeles. (And Commissioner Stern, think how much cheaper the travel would be, sending a guy who lives a tad farther up the coast.)

Steve Nash
The two-time MVP is doing just about everything as well as he ever did. Now the supporting cast and the W-L record are far less impressive. Should that matter? Yes, of course, in some ways. The challenge to every NBA player is to win. On the other hand, if not an All-Star berth, what way is there to honor the otherworldly play of an aging hero doomed by his owner's questionable leadership? Hollinger: "What we're basically saying is that Nash was responsible for having Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion on his team, and now it's his fault that they're gone."

David West
In addition to being the featured big man in Chris Paul's multifaceted attack, West is now the starting forward for a title-quality defense. If the Hornets could upgrade their wing players, Paul, West and Okafor would be a force in the West, and West would be an All-Star.

Zach Randolph
Has anyone noticed that Memphis has been turning it on lately? The Grizzlies have long been a popular pick to be terrible, but ever since getting Randolph, he has been putting up huge numbers and they have been better than expected. At the moment, the Grizzlies have a winning record and are on track to make the playoffs. Surely somebody deserves recognition for exceeding expectations like that. You could do worse than to pick the guy averaging a cool 20 points and 13 rebounds per game.

The 2010-11 East All-Stars

Starters
LeBron James
Amare Stoudemire
Dwyane Wade
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard

Reserves
Ray Allen
Chris Bosh
Kevin Garnett
Al Horford
Joe Johnson
Paul Pierce
Rajon Rondo

Andrew Bogut
One of Andrew Bogut's problems is that he's in the Eastern Conference with Dwight Howard, who is unlikely to ever miss this game, and, now, Al Horford, who is proving to be quite the stud. As an extra annoyance, players like Joakim Noah (whose Bulls are 14 games ahead of the Bucks in the standings) and Brook Lopez also vie for the title of conference's third-best center. Last year when Bogut was on the All-Star bubble, he offered to switch positions. He can play center, but he swears he can also bring the ball up and zing behind-the-back passes. So, maybe that's something to consider next time.

Carlos Boozer
It was 2004 -- a half-century ago in dog years -- that Carlos Boozer offended the NBA by taking the biggest contract he could get. Sometimes it feels like he gets punished anew for that every year. He's a 20 and 10 guy (and the highest-paid player) on a 34-14 Bulls team that is shattering the assumption that the Celtics, Magic and Heat are the East's three candidates to make the Finals.

Joakim Noah
Charles Barkley's favorite NBA player is beautiful to watch, even if you're not captivated by the flowing curls. He has infinite love -- for the game, for winning, for his teammates, for hustle, for the big moments. It's no coincidence he was part of special teams in college and again in the pros. The man plays his heart out, and any league would be wise to reward that. Meanwhile, his team has been as exciting as any in the league this season. The only real drawback to his candidacy: Thanks to injury, he has played just 24 games, and a lot of Chicago's best ball has come with Noah in funky street clothes.

Boozer bullish in pick-and-roll Friday

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
10:33
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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The one area that had not been a positive for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer entering Friday's game against the Nets was his play in the pick-and-roll.
Carlos Boozer
Boozer


Many expected that when partnered with point guard Derrick Rose, Boozer would be a force rolling to the basket. But entering Friday, Boozer was shooting just 45.9 percent from the field as the roll man in the pick-and-roll (according to video tracking by Synergy Sports Technology). That was bad enough for his second-worst shooting percentage in any play type this season (he rated worse in isolation plays).

Friday in a 90-81 win over the Nets, Boozer enjoyed one of his most successful games in the pick-and-roll. In four plays as the roll man, Boozer contributed three field goals and six of his 20 total points. That included a baseline dunk over Travis Outlaw in the third quarter.

Boozer is one of the more efficient post scorers in the halfcourt. Of all players with at least 50 shot attempts, he ranks fifth in the NBA in points-per-shot in the post.

But as Friday’s performance in the pick-and-roll shows, Boozer is still growing with his new teammates.

Even as he's growing, the Bulls are 12-2 since a loss to the Boston Celtics, posting the third-best record in the NBA during that time. Only the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have been better. Boozer has regained his All-Star form and been one of the more dominating players in the NBA. In those 14 games, Boozer is averaging 22.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and is shooting 56 percent from the field. He has nine double-doubles, including seven games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The other statistically-interesting story from the NBA's early New Year's Eve games was DeMar DeRozan's monstrous second half in a 114-105 loss to the Houston Rockets. DeRozan had 29 points in the last two quarters, tied for the fourth-most by any player in any half this season. Kevin Martin's 32-point first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 11 tops the list.

Chase Budinger
Budinger
DeRozan finished with 37 points, but the Raptors were outscored by 14 points when he was on the floor. The more valuable effort came from Houston's Chase Budinger, who scored 22 points, and was plus-27 in 24 minutes off the bench.

Budinger has had two straight strong efforts, this one surpassing the last one against the Heat, when he registered 11 points in 16 minutes, and a plus-12.

Bulls, Mavericks do what they do best

December, 22, 2010
12/22/10
12:55
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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When the Chicago Bulls win, they don’t leave any doubt.

The Bulls 45-point win over the 76ers, their biggest triumph ever against Philadelphia, on Tuesday was their third victory this season by at least 30 points. That’s the most such wins in the NBA.

That also represented the largest margin of victory for any team in the NBA this season, surpassing the Magic’s 42-point win over the Timberwolves on November 3.

Chicago’s last four wins (over the Timberwolves, Pacers, Raptors and 76ers) have come by a combined 112 points, with none of the margins being smaller than 17 points. That’s a stark contrast to its first 13 victories, of which only one was by more than a dozen points.

How are the Bulls getting it done?

The return of forward Carlos Boozer has been pretty significant. Chicago is 8-3 in his 11 games played since his return. With his help, the Bulls had 52 points in the paint, their third straight game of 50 or more (following a streak of four straight games of 40 or fewer), and shot 64.5 percent from the field, their second-best shooting game post-Michael Jordan (they shot 67 percent in a win over the Bucks in 2008). Boozer went 7-for-12, which actually dropped his shooting percentage over the last four games down to only 60 percent.

The difference between a blowout win and a narrow loss has been in how Chicago defends the 3-point shot. In their last three wins, the Bulls have held opponents to 8-for-46 shooting from 3-point range. Their loss to the Clippers last Saturday was partly due to Los Angeles making eight of its 17 3-point attempts.

While the Bulls kept winning big, the Dallas Mavericks continued winning, and winning on back-to-back days. The Mavericks improved to an NBA-best 5-0 this season in the second game of back-to-backs, with a 105-99 win over the Orlando Magic. Dallas joined the Utah Jazz as the two teams this season that have defeated the Magic and Miami Heat in consecutive road games.

The most notable statistical accomplishment from this win was that while Dirk Nowitzki didn’t have his best day, he did reach a meaningful milestone.

Nowitzki, who entered the day as the league’s best shooter from 15 to 19 feet (58 percent), was 4-for-13 from the field overall. But, he moved into 25th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, dispatching league legend Larry Bird from that list in the process

Millsap keys Jazz epic comeback vs. Heat

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
11:49
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
While most of the attention entering the game was on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat, the postgame focus was on the remarkable comeback by the Utah Jazz and the performance of Paul Millsap.

The Jazz trailed by as many as 22 points in the second quarter and 19 at the half before coming back to rally for the win in overtime. The 19-point halftime deficit is tied for the second largest the Jazz have ever overcome to win a game.

On the individual front, Millsap led the Jazz with a career-high 46 points as he hit 19 of 28 field goal attempts. Millsap scored 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final 30 seconds of regulation, including a game-tying putback to force overtime. The other three field goals Millsap hit in the final 30 seconds were 3-pointers. Prior to those, he was 2-for-20 on 3-point field goals in his career. Millsap's 46 points are the most by a Jazz player since Karl Malone dropped 56 on the Warriors on April 7, 1998. Millsap has been a revelation as Carlos Boozer’s replacement, taking a clear step forward from his reserve role last season, ramping up his offensive output without turning the ball over more frequently.

Meanwhile, Wade led the Heat with a season-high 39 points and scored all 10 of their overtime points. James added 20 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for his 29th career triple-double and first with the Heat. His 29 career triple-doubles are tied for second most among active players with Grant Hill (trailing Jason Kidd). The triple-double was the first against the Jazz since James had 32 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists Nov. 7, 2007. James has failed to register 25 points in seven straight games, which is the second-longest such streak of his career. The 11 rebounds and 14 assists both represented season highs for him, and he has scored exactly 20 points in four of his past five games.

The game's two leading scorers, Wade and Millsap, worked effectively around the basket, as they've done all season. Wade scored seven of his 12 field goals within 5 feet of the hoop while Millsap added 10 such field goals. Entering the night, Wade and Millsap ranked first and fifth in the NBA in field goals made within 5 feet of the hoop with 30 and 26, respectively.

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