Bulls and DeRozan suffocated by elite Bucks defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Billy Donovan didn’t think the Chicago Bulls were playing with enough pace.
Both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine cited the Milwaukee Bucks adjustment to not only start a bigger lineup, but also to force any possible offensive action down the left side of the field.
Patrick Williams missed all nine shots.
Either way, whichever way you slice it, the Bulls’ offensive performance in Friday night’s Game 3 at a noisy United Center was positively offensive.
No quick break points until the fourth quarter. Only three free throw attempts until deep in the third quarter. Jumper after jumper — most of them contested — as the Bucks’ elite defense walled in the way and forced the Bulls to shoot 39.3%, boosted by cleanup minutes. elite of Tony Bradley.
It was ugly. It was historically ugly.
The Bulls trailed by as much as 37 points and the 111-81 final marked the largest margin of defeat in a home playoff game in franchise history.
“They responded as they should have,” DeRozan said. “Give them credit.”
It’s hard not to follow such a demoralizing defensive presence from the reigning NBA champions. You can watch all the movies you want, kick and scream at the lack of bench production or lament the fact that LaVine’s brilliance and athleticism continue to be affected by his left knee heading for attention during the offseason.
Friday night had less to do with the Bulls and more to do with the Bucks. These are the reigning champions finally finding their identity and imposing their will on the series. It was the Bucks who knew they had briefly given up home-court advantage with their Game 2 loss and were playing All-Star-less Khris Middleton and were inspired.
“Obviously Zach and DeMar can go for 40 (points) any night,” said Bobby Portis, who deftly replaced injured Middleton with 18 points and 16 rebounds. “We wanted to play them in a crowd.”
The Bucks accomplished that. LaVine said the Bulls finally solved the Bucks’ adjustment of forcing everything down the left side by hitting someone — often Nikola Vučević — with a pocket pass and swinging the ball the other way side. But the Bulls missed too many of those resulting shots.
After his 41-point masterpiece in Game 2, DeRozan managed just 11 points and took just nine shots in 32 minutes.
“I wasn’t frustrated at all,” DeRozan said. “I knew they were going to make adjustments. What adjustments it was going to be, I didn’t know in advance. I had an idea throughout the game. But the moment I had an idea, they had it rolling. You have to give them credit. Now it’s up to us to make our adjustments.
Donovan wants to see the Bulls play with more pace. That doesn’t necessarily mean more quick break points, although those are welcome and would certainly benefit from showing some before the fourth quarter. That means trying to push the ball up faster to try to put the Bucks defense in scramble mode as opposed to set mode, where a favorable game could produce a better shot.
“If we get the ball out of bounds, we can’t put our heads down. We just have to move on to the next play. Get it out fast. Move on. Push it down the field a little bit,” LaVine said. “I feel like I can do a better job of bouncing and pushing, having the ball in my hands and playing a bit faster. And we need to kick the ball around to have transition opportunities.”
This is where the Bulls so miss Lonzo Ball, who is elite at the forward pass. LaVine also noted how difficult it is to push the ball up when you take the ball out of bounds after a basket is made. It is therefore essential to obtain stops.
LaVine has only reached the free throw line once. At first, he mostly stayed on the perimeter. Eventually he started attacking, but it’s clear he’s not reaching the rim with the same ease and athleticism he did at the start of the season.
“I’ve been hobbling all season, bro,” LaVine said, when asked how his knee felt. “I’ll be fine.”
The Bucks continue to concede the 3-point shot. Vučević sank his first two attempts before missing his next five and finishing 3 for 9 from that distance.
As a team, the Bulls connected on just 9 of 34 from 3-point field. Coby White missed five of six 3-point attempts, part of a tough night from the bench and youth. Williams managed just one point.
“It’s a failed or successful league,” LaVine said. “You can do what you can on defense. But we move to the offensive side, we have to shoot. Me, Vooch, DeMar, we have to do our job too.”
It’s a quick turnaround with a tip at noon on Sunday at the United Center. The Bucks’ defense has already sounded the alarm.
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