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How the Chicago Bulls attempted to slow Luka Doncic in a loss to the Mavericks

Will Gottlieb Avatar
November 2, 2023

The Chicago Bulls competed hard and executed their game plan against the Dallas Maverick Wednesday night, but ultimately fell to the last remaining undefeated team by a score of 114-105.

Even though the Mavs outgunned the Bulls from deep, they were solid from beyond the arc (11-of-33). The problem is, when you’re getting outscored by 28 points from three, you need to make up for that with free throws and offensive boards, and they weren’t able to win either battle.

And then of course, there’s the element of defense, something that has dropped off for the Bulls this year. Against the Mavericks, they needed to be locked in.

Prior to Wednesday, Luka Doncic was averaging 39 points on 55.6 shooting and 48.6 percent on threes. He was absolutely dismantling everyone in his path, either scoring for himself or diming up one of his teammates 9.7 times per game.

In that timeframe, the Bulls were 17th in defense, allowing 111.1 points to opponents, per 100 possessions. Having given up some huge games to the Pistons and Thunder and getting the benefit of some ugly shooting numbers in their wins against the Pacers and Raptors, it was curious to know how they would defend Doncic and the Mavericks, who were atop the league in offensive rating ahead of their matchup.

Interestingly enough, Doncic only averaged 22.8 points on 41.4 percent shooting, his lowest scoring average against any opponent. Hardly pedestrian, but quite a bit worse than his regular figures.

The Bulls took an aggressive approach with Doncic, switching initial pick-and-roll actions before sending late help if he didn’t get off the ball quickly. They made sure to pick him up full court to try to drain some clock and did pretty well to contain Doncic early.

Doncic took only three shots during his first quarter stint.

But after seeing too much of the same defense, it becomes easy to pick apart, so the Bulls switched things up, starting the second quarter with aggressive blitzes to try to trap him at half court and force a turnover.

Unfortunately, that left the Bulls pretty vulnerable on the back end, which gave up some easy shots to the support players. The Bulls had to give this method up pretty quickly as Doncic started finding teammates for easy shots, or would just beat the trap himself if it wasn’t executed well enough, where he could get all the way to the rim and start doing damage at the foul line.

Still, the Bulls contained him well enough by the half, allowing him only 2-of-9 shooting.

Ultimately the Bulls settled back into something that looked more like their first half defense down the stretch, but they weren’t able to get stops. Credit to Patrick Williams, Alex Caruso and Torrey Craig for picking Doncic up full court, making sure the offense was initiated on the other side and trying to drain as much clock as possible.

Though they slowed his scoring as much as possible (18 points on 5-of-16 shooting), Doncic was just too good as a passer, finding his teammates the instant one of the Bulls help defender sank in or took even a half step to come double.

As a whole, the Mavericks shot 20-of-48 on threes (41.7 percent). Removing Doncic’s 1-of-8 night, the rest of the team was 47.5 percent. If you give up shooting nights like that, it’s incredibly difficult to win.

Offensive keys

The Bulls have plans to overhaul their offense by offensive rebounding, getting out in transition and getting into the paint to generate kickout threes, layups and free throw attempts. Here’s how they performed in each of those categories:

  • Free throw attempt rate: 11.2% (12th)
  • Offensive rebound rate: 29.2% (66th)
  • Rim frequency: 26% (22nd)
  • Three-point attempt frequency: 34% (33rd)
  • Transition frequency: 12.8% (15th)

Up Next: Bulls return home after an extended road trip to play the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night in their first In-Season Tournament game

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