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Chicago Bulls late game play calling and execution

Will Gottlieb Avatar
November 18, 2023

In similar fashion to Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls went down early, stormed back late, but were unable to beat the Orlando Magic in the clutch. Losing 103-97 on Friday night’s In-Season Tournament game, the Bulls now fall to 4-9 on the season.

After their late surge, the Bulls had a chance to tie or take the lead, down two with 20.6 seconds left. Taking the ball out from the sideline, the Bulls had the chance to go to one of their pet late game actions: the Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan pick-and-pop.

Ultimately, the ball ended up in Nikola Vucevic’s hands for a corner three, which he missed, inspiring some consternation around Billy Donovan’s play calling.

But this is one of the most effective actions the Bulls have at their disposal and all parties involved made the right reads and executed it perfectly. Sometimes, the ball just doesn’t go in.

“It had a couple options on it,” Donovan said. “DeMar was on the top and Zach sprinted into a screen. Tried to set it or slip out of it. DeMar drove downhill and they pulled away off the corner and I feel like we got Vooch a really good shot.”

“DeMar actually turned the corner, I felt like he was gonna get to the rim from my angle, but when they pulled across I think he made a great pass and got a corner three,” he continued.

“Great play,” LaVine said after the game. “Me in DeMar in action. Able to get him down, I slipped out. They went with me and DeMar was able to get downhill and made a great pass. We’ll take that shot every day of the week with Vooch taking an uncontested three. I think we got the best shot at at that time, couldn’t ask for more.”

One of the pros with having a shooting center is that you can take the opposing rim protector out of the paint. With Jonathan Isaac guarding Vucevic in the corner, he is faced with the decision to try to help cut off the drive or leave his man, a 47 percent corner three-point shooter last season, wide open. Can’t do both at the same time.

Isaac chose to cut off the drive, and he made the right gamble. Make or miss league. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong shot, the wrong decision, the wrong play or the wrong execution.

Donovan spoke recently with Nekias Duncan and Steve Jones about this very action, and went into great detail about how dangerous it can be. I have also advocated that the Bulls should look to put LaVine and DeRozan in the same actions as well, as they are typically able to get a good look by forcing opponents to mess up.

The Bulls had another chance, after a pair of Magic free throws, to keep the game alive on another sideline out play.

In this play, the ball is entered across the court to DeRozan on the weak side block. LaVine sprints up to go get a handoff, ideally drawing a switch or a double on the screen, which would have opened up a look at a clean three.

“I didn’t feel like we executed that quite correctly,” said Donovan.

“Tried to get DeMar the ball, and then I came across trying to get a three off,” LaVine explained. “At that point, you’re just trying to get a shot off. He’s a good defender, got a hand on it, not a lot you can do about it.”

Up Next: Another home-home set against the streaking Miami Heat, who have won seven-straight

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