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Why the Bulls couldn't stop Joel Embiid and the 76ers

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 8, 2022

The Bulls extended their losing streak to five games with a 121-106 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

Cliff notes: The Bulls couldn’t stop Joel Embiid. He had 43 points and 14 rebounds shooting 15/27 from the field. He is inevitable.

The Bulls tried to give themselves a chance against him, but ultimately came up short in a big way.

Here are a few things I noticed from the tape:

1. Gameplanning Embiid

Despite missing Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls arrived with a good game plan against the 76ers, attempted to do everything they could to keep the ball away from Embiid. On this play in particular, Javonte Green does an excellent job stunting toward him in the post to throw off Embiid’s timing before full-on doubling.

When the double comes, it forces a kick out which sends the Bulls into rotations. This is an example of a super-advanced read from Ayo Dosunmu that got the Bulls an easy layup in transition.

Nice job doubling and executing rotations

I also enjoyed the Bulls attempt to front Embiid in the post, forcing him to work to get better position before the entry pass.

Bulls try fronting Embiid

Of course, Harden is such a good passer that he was able to get Embiid the ball anyway, leaving the Bulls backline defenders with one option: foul and hope he doesn’t make the shot.

2. Oh, so many fouls

After giving up 19 free throw attempts to Giannis Antetokounmpo last Friday, Embiid followed up with 16.

So. many. fouls.

So many fouls

Some of these are ticky-tack and some are just bad luck. It’s hard to complain too much given the 76ers already lead the league in free-throw attempt rate. It’s how the 76ers make their living and the Bulls had no chance to compete in this game without forcing him out of his spots, keeping hands high and executing rotations at a much higher level.

3. The Harden/Embiid pick-and-roll

What happens when an unstoppable force and an immovable object join forces? This.

Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll

With Harden orchestrating and Embiid one of the two the most dominant interior forces in the league, the 76ers are always in position to get good looks.

Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll

Any wrong move will get you whistled for a foul, but the back line help not stepping up at all isn’t good enough. I wouldn’t want to be the one with that job, but someone needed to get into Embiid’s airspace when he got the ball headed downhill to force him to pick up his dribble.

It wasn’t just Harden dumping off passes to Embiid, but the way their action opened up the floor for everyone else.

Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll creating open shots

Defending a Harden/Embiid pick-and-roll takes five guys and even then you’ll have to sacrifice attention somewhere else. Ten of the 12 made threes came from non-Embiid/Harden 76ers. Georges Niang got loose for four made threes, Maxey had two and four other 76ers each made a three.

Embiid and Harden are tough enough to guard as is. The Bulls strategy was to keep the ball away from Embiid and allow everyone else to beat them. Both of those plans failed. With all the fouls and late rotations, they never had a chance.

Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball can’t come back soon enough.

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