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Is there anything the Bulls can do to extend this series?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
April 26, 2022

The Bulls are down 3-1 to the Bucks in their first round playoff series and Wednesday could well be their last game of the 2021-22 season.

Do they have anything left?

In some ways, this series has been everything we expected and in some ways, it’s everything we could have hoped. With their backs firmly pressed against the wall, Mark Karantzoulis and I discuss the potential ways that the Bulls could extend this series another game and save face on a series that has slipped out of their grip.

Will: The last two games have been … rough. It feels like everything is going right for the Bucks and wrong for the Bulls. We knew the Bulls were overmatched, but the way they competed in the first two games was inspiring and I thought they could find that level of competition again playing at home.

They didn’t and now they have two options: roll over and die or fight like hell to live another day.

Considering everything that happened in the Chicago set of games, is there anything left on the table you think the Bulls can explore to get themselves back into this series…or at least go down fighting?

Mark: 95.2 percent of teams who have built a 3-1 lead go on to win the series, according to Land of Basketball. The numbers suggest this series is effectively over, and the Bulls haven’t provided any reason to believe they will be one of the rare teams who defies the odds.

Here’s another number to digest: the Bulls generated 19 corner 3-point attempts in game four. They only made five (26.3 percent). For context, league average on corner threes is approx. 38 percent.

Because I’m a sick individual who enjoys toiling in misery, I compiled all 19 of the Bulls’ corner 3-point attempts. As you’ll see in the clip, many of these were shots were good, clean looks.

It’s extremely rudimentary analysis on my part, but the Bulls need to make their fucking shots. It really is that simple. Nothing else matters if the Bulls aren’t capable of converting open jumpers. This needs to be the first adjustment.

Will: You’re definitely sick, my dude.

It’s true. A lot of this series seems to be as simple as the Bulls walling off paint and Giannis either barrels to the rim or kicks out to shooters who make their shots. Meanwhile the Bucks are doing the same thing — walling off the paint, forcing DeMar DeRozan into tough shots or to spray out to shooters. The difference is DeRozan can’t score as effectively as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks shooters are hitting their shots.

Where are you with Zach LaVine in all of this? He had a great first quarter of Game 4. But with Caruso out, he had to pick up more of the ball-handling duty. As a result, the ball pressure he faced made it such that he couldn’t really get any scoring avenues unless someone else was setting him up.

Despite the high number of assists, LaVine isn’t someone I generally trust to take on that role — I’d much rather see him operating off ball, but the Bulls don’t have that luxury. How can they get him going in Game 5?

Mark: Ideally, as you note, I’d rather not have LaVine act as the primary ball-handler. Trouble is, what is the alternative?

DeRozan is swarmed the moment he steps foot inside the 3-point line, which limits his ability to be an efficient play creator. Alex Caruso is questionable for game five as he remains in concussion protocols. Assuming Caruso isn’t fit to play, Ayo Dosunmu likely starts in his place. Are we more confident in Dosunmu — or Patrick Williams — getting more on-ball reps than LaVine in a do-or-die playoff game?

Personally, if the goal is to get LaVine into his offense, I have more confidence in him being able to do this for himself. It’s either that, or diverting the ball elsewhere and hoping an even more inexperienced Bull is capable of creating offense. More holistically, for next season and beyond, there’s more to gain by giving him the chance to experience what is required to be a lead playmaker in a postseason setting. Let him cook and see what happens.

Will: For me, therein lies the problem. The Bucks have used Wesley Matthews on DeRozan, leaving Jrue Holiday on LaVine and it’s hard for anyone to get anything going against Holiday.

The Bulls don’t even need a lead playmaker, they need a ball handler. Someone to dribble up the court under pressure and make an entry pass. Without Caruso, even that seems daunting.

Another concerning aspect of this last game was the elimination of Nikola Vucevic in the offense. The Bucks have been sacrificing those pick-and-pop threes to contain DeRozan and LaVine, but now they’re sending help at Vucevic on those pops.

I guess it’s just coming back to the idea of shooting the ball better — they can’t win games shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Defensively, I think they’re executing as well as possible. The Bucks had some insane shot-making those last two games and that could fall off at a moment’s notice.

Anything you’ve noticed on the defensive end?

Mark: The Bulls have defended the Bucks really well this series. The scheme Donovan has in place is the right one. You have to sink on Antetokounmpo drives. I’d much rather play the odds that Grayson Allen, Bobby Portis — or any other Bucks role player — is less likely to swing the outcome when compared to the Bucks’ two-time MVP.

Though the strategy is sound, the Bulls can be better in executing. As an example of an area that requires attention, let’s look at this Allen 3-pointer at the close of third quarter in game four.

In the above clip, the Bucks run a guard-forward pick-and-pop, which leads to Antetokounmpo giving up the ball in favor of Allen. The result is what the Bulls are chasing, but how it came to be was concerning.

In this instance, the Bulls defenders guarding this pick-and-pop scenario inexplicably switch the screen. This forces Coby White to guard Antetokounmpo. Obviously, this is problematic. White has no chance in isolation, so Williams stays near Antetokounmpo — leaving Allen alone at the 3-point line. Whilst Williams does the right thing to help and get the ball out of Antetokounmpo’s hands, the prior mistake on the screen allows for Allen to shoot an open three.

It’s a minor quibble, but these types of breakdowns can’t happen. The Bulls can’t have possessions that unnecessarily lead to switching assignments, and Williams needs to be significantly better at fighting over screens.

Will: It’s fair to split hairs at this point, we’re talking about a win or go home situation. They’ll need to be perfect and need Milwaukee to make some mistakes if they want to get back to Chicago for a Game 6 on Friday.

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