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The Bulls tried some new things on defense — here's how they worked

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 27, 2022

The Bulls are back! (on track)

The Bulls picked up a massive 98-94 road win against the Cavs on Saturday night to maintain their hold over the fifth seed in the East. They also earned the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Cavs.

Both teams had pretty poor shooting nights, but the Bulls were able to move the ball at a high level and hold off a second-half run from the Cavs. Despite the cold shooting, there were a few defensive things that caught my eye watching the game.

Here’s a deeper look at a few tricks that may become useful in the playoffs.

Patrick Williams switching

For the stretch during the second quarter where Patrick Williams was in the game, the Bulls tried switching pick-and-roll a few possessions.

Williams didn’t play too much against the Cavs as the assignment on Caris LeVert wasn’t too favorable. But it was super interesting to see him switch screen-rolls onto Darius Garland. If he’s able to hound smaller guards, keep them out of the paint and contest step-backs, it unlocks a huge component of defense that the Bulls otherwise do not have.

There could be opportunities in potential matchups with the Celtics and Heat where Williams, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu switch across multiple positions to throw opponents a different look.

It’s a great tool to have in the toolbox.

Cavs go Vooch hunting

Between 8:01 minutes and 4:56, Garland put Nikola Vucevic in five straight pick-and-rolls, hunting one-on-one matchups against the Bulls center.

Garland. Took. Over.

The Cavs scored 9 points on those possessions:

Driving layup, open three on kick out pass — hockey assist to Garland, missed floater, open dunk assisted by Garland, pull up jumper.

Finally, Billy Donovan called a timeout and on the next possession when the Cavs tried to do the same thing, Vucevic blitzed the pick-and-roll and forced a miss at the rim.

  1. In the first clip, Vucevic does his job correctly. He backs off of Garland, preventing him from getting into the paint and forcing a low-efficiency jumper. Garland made it, but Vucevic did his job.
  2. In the second clip, Garland was also able to turn the corner and get to the rim. He did this several times, which put the Bulls into rotations they couldn’t execute. Vucevic does get beat here, but the help needs to help him in order for this coverage to work.
  3. The fix was attacking Garland above the break. This allowed Vucevic to get back into the play where he was able to deter the shot at the rim. Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso also do their job sliding over to close the driving lane.

If we’ve learned anything from the Jim Boylen days, it’s that blitzing every pick-and-roll is not the answer. It’s a changeup that the Bulls can go to when teams start to isolate Vucevic and put him in tough situations.

Vucevic is going to be targeted in pick-and-roll in the playoffs. Period. Donovan will need to move quickly to find adjustments that break up the momentum.

The blitz worked here, but that not always be the right solution, so he’ll have to be willing to find the secret sauce.

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