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Understanding the Raptors pressure and how the Bulls beat it

Will Gottlieb Avatar
November 8, 2022

After taking a beating Sunday night in Toronto, the Bulls bounced back Monday night in their second of a two-game set with the Raptors.

The Raptors double teaming killed the Bulls on Sunday and Monday night , but it’s not the only time this has happened. DeRozan sees double team’s at the sixth highest rate in the NBA. And the Bulls are one of the worst teams in the league at taking advantage, scoring only 0.96 points per possession on trapping situations, worst of any group in the top 20.

But something seemed to click as the Bulls beat the Raptors 111-97 at the United Center.

To beat pressure, you have to absorb and unleash it as a weapon against your opponent. The Bulls did exactly that. Their quick decision making had the Raptors playing from behind. Their defensive rebounding and dedication to the break allowed them to get some easy points and prevented the Raptors from bogging them down every play. The rest of the team executed at a high level — DeRozan scored only nine points on six shots.

Not enough can be said about the way DeRozan handled and created scoring opportunities in the face of this pressure. Billy Donovan had high praise:

“I thought DeMar, when he got trapped was like unbelievable,” Donovan said after the game. “Here’s a guy that’s a 30-point scorer in this league. And to me, it was a perfect indication of what he’s all about and it’s winning. Here’s what the game dictates, here’s what I have to do and this is how I have to help my teammates.”

“And I’ve always said this, great players make people around them better,” Donovan continued. “And he made everyone around him better tonight. Just his level of sacrifice, in terms of not forcing anything. Didn’t even care about shooting. We put the ball in his hands in the middle of the floor, we knew they were going to trap him, we spread him out and just let him make the play, and our guys did a good job from there.”

An excellent performance all around, the Bulls were able to make the right adjustments and start swimming down stream instead of up current.

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Understanding where the help is coming from

The default coverage on DeRozan was to send help from the strong side and hope the help could rotate back over from the weak side to take away the easiest outlet pass.

Breaking down Raptors defensive scheme against DeMar DeRozan

The adjustments

The adjustment from the Bulls was simply to have DeRozan attack before the double can contain his dribble penetration. This allows him to beat the help to the spot and leaves Javonte Green open for a corner three.

DeMar DeRozan attacks before the double arrives

When DeRozan got doubled, he again knew where the help was coming from. The key to beating this scheme is to make quick decisions that turn the table and put the pressure on the Raptors rather than allowing them to collapse on DeRozan every time down the court.

While DeRozan had a quiet scoring night (XX points), he did everything right and allowed everyone else to thrive around him. Zach LaVine was great in this role, scoring 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field and 4-for-8 from three. Nikola Vucevic chipped in 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds — which was key in limiting the Raptors to five offensive rebounds after getting 23 the previous night.

Quick decisions in half court

This was a fantastic after timeout play and exactly how the Bulls needed to attack this sort of defensive strategy.

The Bulls know the help will come from the strong side, so as soon as Fred VanVleet peels off Ayo Dosunmu, DeRozan finds him.

Rather than surveying the floor, he knows the play design — attack the basket before VanVleet can recover.

As the low man steps over to help at the rim, Patrick Williams darts to the basket along the baseline and makes himself available to Dosunmu for a lob.

The Bulls obviously don’t have this sort of set play ready every time down, but this is the process that works against a defense that is always scrambling.

Moving DeRozan off ball

Another adjustment from Billy Donovan was to move DeRozan off the ball, preventing the Raptors from gobbling him up early in the clock. At least try to get them shifting side to side before attacking him.

This was a great designed action coming out of the half. The Bulls start DeRozan on the weak side wing away from the action. As Vucevic gets the entry pass at the elbow, DeRozan cuts to the baseline and watch what Vucevic’s defender does:

Barnes is more concerned with DeRozan getting the ball on a back cut and it leaves Vucevic wide open for an elbow jumper.

Transition

It goes without saying at this point, but the Bulls need their transition game to relieve some of the pressure that DeRozan deals with in the half court. This is especially true against the Raptors suffocating defense.

On Sunday night, the Bulls were in transition on only 14.9 percent of their plays, but followed that up getting 21.3 percent of their offense in transition on Monday night.

Inevitably, the Bulls will face more trapping down the line. Hopefully the Bulls now recognize the importance of moving the ball quickly and attacking before the defense can hurt them.

In the meantime, this was a good win. The Bulls will face off against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

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