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Keeping perspective after the Bulls worst home playoff loss ever

Will Gottlieb Avatar
April 23, 2022

We knew this was coming at some point.

It was a game where everything went right for the Bucks and wrong for the Bulls. It happens. The Bucks handed the Bulls their worst ever home playoff defeating, stealing back home court advantage with a 111-81 win on Friday night.

While it feels like the air is sucked out of the sails, this was somewhat predictable.

Maybe not to this extent, but still.

Through the first two games of the series, the Bucks shot 43.3 from the field and 32.4 percent from deep. That’s 3.5 and 3.2 percent below their season averages, respectively.

That bounced back in a big way in Game 3 as the Bucks finished 47.3 from the field and 36.6 from beyond the arc. Their offensive rating in the first two games was 100.0, so it’s pretty obvious they were due for a breakout game. Tonight, their offensive rating was 116.0, much closer to their regular-season rating of 114.3.

Part of the reason this Bulls season has been so fun is because of their unique style of play. It’s also one of the reasons they lose so ugly so often.

“Tonight was a night where they shot the ball a lot better than we did, and I thought we lost our way when we had a hard time making shots,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.

The Bulls play a dangerous game of math every night. They aggressively punt one of the Four Factors, offensive rebounding, intentionally opting to limit transition instead of attacking the offensive glass.

The Bulls try to make up for that by overachieving in the other three categories: effective field goal percentage, free throw rate and turnover rate. They rely heavily on tough shot-making from the mid-range to boost their effective field goal percentage and drawing fouls and limiting turnovers through isolation play.

Because their style of isolation play impacts three of those four factors — effective field goal, turnover and free throw rate — if the iso’s aren’t working, it completely neuters the entire offense.

Here’s how that turned out for them in Game 3:

“Our inability to make shots deflated us some,” Billy Donovan said.

The Bucks beat the Bulls 55 rebounds to 43 and 9 offensive rebounds to the Bulls 5. They shot 10-of-14 from the free-throw line compared to the Bulls 6-of-10. The Bucks had 9 turnovers to the Bulls 14 and had a 55.5 effective field goal to the Bulls 44.6.

On a night where everything went right for the Bucks, it went equally wrong for the Bulls. Isolations weren’t working because of the incredible point of attack defense from the Bucks guards.

If DeMar DeRozan or any of the other Bulls ball handlers did happen to get downhill, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis were camped out, waiting to deter shots.

Donovan is going to have to make some changes to help the Bulls offense change hemispheres of the court to get the defense shifting side to side and move the rim protectors out of the paint.

The Bulls face a difficult philosophical question of sacrificing their mid-range identity to jack up threes, just to even the math. If DeRozan isn’t scoring 40+ on 50 percent shooting, the one chance they have to keep themselves alive is to shoot more threes than the Bucks. Well, they shot 9-of-34 on threes compared to the Bucks 15/41.

Even aside from the shooting evening out, the Bulls still didn’t do enough to win. The Bucks elevated to a higher level of execution, even without Khris Middleton in the lineup. Meanwhile, the Bulls couldn’t get anything going at the basket. They couldn’t get out to the Bucks shooters. Things snowballed in opposite directions for both teams.

They’ll have adjustments to make and will need to execute better, but it’s important to keep perspective and remember that a 30-point loss is still just one loss.

“A loss is a loss,” DeRozan said. “Whether it was one or it was thirty. A loss is a loss.”

“Now we got an opportunity on Sunday to tie this thing up on our home court and that’s what we’re going to go out there and do.”

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