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How Luka Doncic picked apart the Chicago Bulls

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 11, 2024

For the first time in a while, the Chicago Bulls looked helpless trying to climb out of a 28-point hole in the first quarter. For the most part, the Bulls have weathered early storms and mounted comebacks to get themselves back in games.

That was not the case on Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who ran away with one at the United Center, for a 127-92 win. With the loss, the Bulls fall to 31-34, 4.5 games out of the 8th seed.

Luka Doncic was surgical. He scored 27 points on 9-of-23 shooting, which is actually pretty bad by his recent standards. But he had 14 assists, in addition to 12 rebounds, and completely manipulated the Bulls defense all night.

“You gotta give credit to Luka, you know, just picking it apart,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We were trying to be there for one another, take away stuff at the rim, while also trying to be ready for close out threes. He kind of broke us apart. He found spots, got the ball to people, throwing it up to them. They’ve got a great feel for one another.”

The Mavs spammed the same play over and over and the Bulls couldn’t come up with answers. Dereck Lively and Daniel Gafford were the recipients of 42 combined points on 20-of-21 shooting as a result of Doncic’s mastery.

Here’s a series of clips that break down the play: A guard enters the ball to a big at the elbow and sets an away screen for Doncic coming from the wing or corner. After coming off the screen, Doncic then flows into a dribble handoff with the big, who would roll to the basket for easy layups.

The Bulls tried a variety of different tactics to slow the Mavs down, but to no avail.

“We tried to blitz a little bit and trap him,” Billy Donovan said after the game. “We did some switching and tried to go back and hit. We didn’t really execute, in my opinion, well enough, any of the coverages we were in.”

“We’ve got to be more pulled in than we were,” Donovan continued. “I think at times he’s coming off and probing and doing what he does do, and he’s got great vision — we talked about it before the game — we were too worried about getting back out to that three-point line instead of saying hey, ‘we’re going to take away the roll’.”

The Bulls were caught between being too scared to give up threes and too scared to give up rim rolls. At a certain point, you’re just not guarding anything well enough.

After the game, DeRozan, who scored just 13 points in 22 minutes, said the team was just a step slow.

“I think we was a step slow…Knowing you let the bigs get downhill, get a head steam, going to the basket, it’s tough, especially when we take our best rebounder, our best rim protector outside the paint,” DeRozan said. “We try to be there for one another and just scrambling and being a step slow.”

Even when defended well — Vucevic meets the ball at the level of the screen, Caruso gets over, low man (Dosunmu) pulls in, high man zones up — it still wasn’t good enough as Gafford and Lively were too big, too strong, too athletic to contain.

After the game Donovan pointed out a play towards the end of the second quarter that served as an example of what good defensive execution was supposed to look like — watch Julian Phillips pull all the way in from the weak side to where he could affect the pass to Lively.

Doncic is averaging 37.4 points, 10 rebounds and 11.1 assists on 52.2 field goal, 40.6 three-point and 86.6 free throw shooting over the previous nine games. It’s not like there are simple solutions to this stuff.

“It’s really hard because Luka plays slow, but then everyone else plays fast,” Lively said when asked how he would defend the action. “So just being able to try to match slow and fast, while Luka can be able to make quick reads — it’s very hard to do.”

“You know, I try to stop it in practice. I can’t. So I can’t give you an answer on that one.”

Up next: Bulls go to Indiana on Wednesday for an important game with regards to the Play-In standings.

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