The last two weeks prior to Monday night’s game, the Philadelphia 76ers have been the best team in basketball. And it hasn’t been remotely close.
In the middle of an eight-game winning streak, the 76ers were the best offense in the league over that period, scoring 131.5 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, the Kings are on pace to finish the season with the greatest offensive rating of all time…119.4.
On top of that, they have been the ninth-best defense, holding opponents to a 114.3 offensive rating. Over the course of a regular season, that probably wins you 83 games.
Needless to say, the 76ers couldn’t keep this up forever.
Indeed, that reality came to fruition against the Bulls, because of course it did. Chicago goes to Philadelphia and beat the 76ers 109-105 in double overtime on Monday night. It was their first win against Joel Embiid in his entire career (they’re now 1-12) and their second double-overtime win in the last three games.
Getting a big win like this is exciting. Stack it on top of five wins in their last six and eight of 12 since the All-Star Break, we might just have something cooking.
Even if the 76ers ungodly offense was bound to come back down to earth at some point, the Bulls did a number on them. Remember the aforementioned 131.5 offensive rating? The Bulls held the 76ers to … 96.3. (The worst offensive rating in the league this season is the lowly Charlotte Hornets at 109.3).
The 76ers shot just 42.2 percent from the field, 27.8 percent from three, and turned the ball over 19 times, all worse than their season averages.
But not all of this can be attributed to bad shooting luck. The Bulls defense was outstanding from the jump.
Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 12 rebounds) did a great job preventing dribble penetration and post entries into the paint.
This helped keep Embiid and Harden out of the paint, which prevents the cascade of ball movement that can often result in an open three.
Inevitably, Embiid will get the ball on the block or elbow and you have to sell out to prevent him from scoring 100 points on 100 percent shooting. To send double teams is to leave yourself vulnerable unless your communication, switching, helping, rotating and scrambling are all on point.
The Bulls executed their game plan to a T. But of course, none of it matters if Derrick Jones Jr. doesn’t come up with the game-clinching block.
With Joel Embiid fouling out in the second overtime, Billy Donovan made the gutsy call to pull Vucevic in favor of Jones Jr. on the final possession. The 76ers were small and the Bulls wanted to be able to switch everything.
Jones Jr., not only blocked the shot, but came up with the rebound to secure the victory. After being completely removed from the rotation over the last 13 games, this had to feel good for Jones.
As poorly as the Bulls have played this season on the whole, you don’t luck into a top-five defense. Especially with a core built around Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.
Billy Donovan has gotten more than the sum of his parts on that end of the floor and it’s not just poor opponent shooting covering up structural flaws. They believe in their ability to send help to wall off the paint and recover on the back side with precise rotations and as a result, they are competing with the best teams and playing their best basketball at the right time.
This wasn’t just a blowout win where the Bulls demoralized their opponent, who whimpered out without a comeback attempt. It wasn’t a win against a shorthanded or struggling or checked out team.
This was a win against the hottest team in basketball, with the odds on favorite to win MVP playing at his highest level. This was a good, well-earned win that they’ll need to keep building on for their play in push.
Up Next: The Bulls find out just how real that win was in a rematch with the 76ers — this time back in Chicago — on Wednesday night.
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