As much as things have changed since the Bulls blew a 10-point advantage in the closing moments of a Jan. 25 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, so much still remains the same.
Poor defensive coverage and allowing too many three-pointers hurt the Bulls in the final three minutes against the Hawks, resulting in a comical collapse. Fast forward four months and the Bulls are still having trouble guarding the three-point line, giving up 40 attempts from deep in a 108-97 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
After blowing a regular season game to the Hawks, internal resentment spilled over into post-game media scrums. Bulls veteran Dwyane Wade eviscerated his teammates, citing a lack of drive and hunger among the playing group.
If it’s been too long to recall what exactly Wade said, here’s a sample:
I wish I could say that everyone in here is going to go home and not eat tonight. I can’t say that. I don’t know that they care enough. Games are supposed to hurt. You’re not supposed to sleep. You’re not supposed to want to talk to anybody. I don’t know if that is in guys in this locker room. Hopefully, they can prove me wrong. But I will challenge them to see if losses like this hurt.
Not done there, Wade continued to challenge his teammates:
If you don’t come in this (expletive) pissed off after you lose any game, something is wrong. This is your job. This is what you’re supposed to love to do, and I don’t think that everybody looks at it that way. I want to play with guys who care, guys who play hard, who want to do well for this organization, who want to do whatever it takes to win.
Inconsistency has plagued the Bulls for several seasons. Heart, toughness and intensity was something ingrained into the Bulls’ identity. Those traits have since gone missing during the Hoiberg era. Frustrated post-game media outbursts from star players pleading for old virtues to be restored have outlined as much, as has the shoddy on-court product.
Everything Wade preached four months ago about his teammates was accurate. It was brash, honest and refreshing. It was also hypocritical.
Clearly standing too high upon his soapbox to notice, Wade had perfectly summarized his own performance on defense. Countless times this season, the veteran guard has been caught watching the ball while opponents dived to the rim for simple lay-ins. Over-helping and unnecessary doubling have been a staple of Wade’s defensive blooper reel. A lack of communication on switches, failing to run back on defense and poor closeouts to three-point shooters have been frustrating and all too frequent.
This is the player Dwyane Wade has become: An inefficient, volume shooter concerned more with step-back, midrange jump shots than playing sound team defense.
In the 87th game of the season, a critical road playoff game with the series tied 2-2, nothing had changed.
Now would be a good time to remind yourself of Wade’s strong words while watching his defensive effort on this play.
Messing up on defense hasn’t been an isolated issue for Wade. It’s been routine. On the prior defensive possession to the clip above, Wade had no idea who he was guarding, giving up a wide-open look at three to Marcus Smart.
Here, no effort to cut into the Gerald Green’s screen route was given, and once Green turned the corner, Wade never got back into the play.
Minutes later, guarding Marcus Smart atop of the three-point line, Wade chooses to go over the screen. Smart, a 28.4 percent three-point shooter, was never going to take a pull-up three. Going under the screen and thwarting off a drive was the correct decision. By going over the screen, Lopez has to help the pick-and-roll dribble penetration, leaving Al Horford open for three. Thankfully, he missed.
Oh, we’re not done. A feeble attempt to strip the ball with stationary feet on a driving Avery Bradley doesn’t count as help defense.
Those a several examples from one half of playoff basketball. One could ignore the occasional lapse on defense. After all, it’s natural for a 35-year-old veteran to decline on defense as his athleticism wanes. That’s not the issue here, though. Overlooking Wade’s defensive issues — or at least not focusing on them nearly as much — would be possible had he not questioned his teammates’ desire to do whatever it takes to win.
By inferring his teammates lacked desire and heart, Wade put himself — and Jimmy Butler — atop of a pedestal. He portrayed himself as an infallible figure, a beacon of team principles.
Defensively, he hasn’t been.
A team littered with role players and inexperienced talent will naturally embody the traits of its leaders. Despite Jimmy Butler’s presence, he isn’t a three-time champion or a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Wade is. As such, his voice carries the heaviest weight in the Bulls locker room.
Because of this, Wade cannot be caught napping on defense. If he does, what message does it send the rest of the team, particularly after acting so noble in such public fashion?
Wade may not be directly responsible when Nikola Mirotic, Rajon Rondo, or any other less notable Chicago player put in minimal effort during a defensive possession, but his influence and actions can be. As a leader of the team, he owes more than veteran guile and volume scoring.
The audacity to put teammates on blast for effort issues whilst failing to execute basic defensive rotations has been problematic for Wade. Anytime he fails to fulfill the demands of his own words, his voice loses credibility.
Speaking to the media after the Hawks loss, Wade was resolute in his stance, believing he was adequately performing his role.
“I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job.”
Maybe the job description failed to mention anything about defense.