In five of their first seven games this season, the Chicago Bulls (1) have been outscored in the first quarter and (2) have gone on to trail by at least 14 points at some point in the game. I don’t think it takes a basketball savant to know that those two facts are connected, and they will continue to be until the starting lineup can play with a greater sense of urgency.
While the Bulls deserve credit for completely erasing these double-digit deficits in four of those five games this season, this isn’t a winning formula. After all, the team has started a lackluster 3-4 for a reason, and the only way they will significantly improve this mark is if they stop wasting so much fuel playing from behind.
“Starting some of these games, we’ve got to figure that out because it probably took until midway through the second quarter to start to play a style and identity of how we are trying to play,” Donovan told Bulls dot com after Saturday’s loss to the 76ers. “It was on both ends. Certainly slow on defense. I think I have to look at that (lineup to start). I don’t think there’s any question. It’s a small sample size with six or seven games, but we do have veterans in that lineup. I don’t want to throw them there (under the bus), but all of us, myself as coach, we’ve got to figure something out to get off to a better start.
To be sure, Donovan is right to mention the small sample size, as there is always room for the law of averages to come into play. Teams have shot an uncharacteristically jaw-dropping 57.6 percent from behind the arc against the Bulls in the first frame. Even with some bad defensive possessions factored into the equation, that number is simply unsustainable. But what that number doesn’t change is the team’s evident lack of energy and effort at the outset of games.
Each night it has taken far too long for the Bulls to begin playing to their identity. In other words, playing uptempo, attacking downhill, and moving off the ball with confidence. All we need to do is look at the team’s 25th-ranked Net Rating in the 1st quarter compared to their 5th-place Net Rating in the 2nd to see exactly that. It shouldn’t take the spark of this – albeit impressive – bench unit to ignite the style of play this coaching staff wants to play, especially when we see how effective the Bulls can be once they finally get their rhythm going.
“We just let teams play the way they want,” Nikola Vucevic told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. Once we wake up and focus a little bit more and get physical, we get stops. But it has to happen from the beginning. Otherwise, it’s going to be a struggle every night.”
If we merely remove the first quarter from the Bulls’ season point total, the team has won the final three quarters by a margin of 27 points (587-560). The inclusion of the first quarter, however, has put their overall difference in points at -3 (792-789).
Again, the fact they have been able to make games interesting over the final three quarters should be viewed as a positive. But we’ve seen what having to exert that much energy to claw back into games can do. Whether it be something mental like Billy Donovan feeling as if he must use his challenge early to spark his team or something more tangible like the Bulls averaging the 2nd-most TOV’s in the 4th quarter, playing from behind almost always has a negative impact. And, until they address that, they’ll continue to fall on the wrong side of many scoreboards.