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MILWAUKEE — They didn’t come away with a win, but the Bulls acquitted themselves well in Sunday’s 93-86 Game 1 loss to the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
The team got socked in the mouth in the first quarter, starting the game in a 9-0 hole. But to their credit, they chipped away, got themselves into the game, and even stole the lead at various points in the second half.
Despite a miserable shooting night on both sides, the Bulls sent a message that they aren’t going to roll over the way it looked like they would after their ugly last month of the season.
“We had our opportunities and we came up a little bit short,” Billy Donovan said following the game at Fiserv Forum. “We had some opportunities offensively and didn’t make enough shots. But they also could be looking at themselves and saying, ‘ you know what, we got a bunch of open shots like they did and didn’t knock them down and we feel pretty good about our shooters.'”
Here are a few of my observations from the game.
1. Respect to Billy for mixing it up
Donovan coached a hell of a game.
He started the team’s five best players in Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams and Nikola Vucevic.
He had a quick leash with Williams, pivoting to Javonte Green, who looked good against Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He played zero minutes with Tristan Thompson and Vucevic together.
He played Derrick Jones Jr. at the five.
He had some great actions to get DeRozan and LaVine the ball on the move.
I was very impressed with his game plan and I’m excited to see what adjustments he makes for Game 2.
2. Vucevic’s best game of the season
Despite the ugly shooting numbers, the Bulls would not have been remotely close in this game without Nikola Vucevic.
He had 24 points, 17 rebounds and three assists but shot only 9 of 27 from the field and 2 for 10 on threes. He tied the game in the third quarter with a massive three after being left wide open again by the Bucks pick-and-roll coverage.
Vucevic stepped up in a big way and didn’t shy away from the looks he was getting. He’s going to be the key to the Bulls success in this series — if he can get some of these looks to go down, the Bulls can compete.
He deserved this one.
3. Not enough from DeMar and Zach
6 of 25 from the field for DeRozan. 6 of 19 from the field and 2 of 10 on threes for LaVine.
Not good enough.
“I don’t know what the hell was going on, probably the week off,” DeRozan said. “I guarantee it: me, Zach and Vooch ain’t gonna miss that many shots again.”
I think Donovan did a good job getting them the ball in their spots. There were some missed calls that could have led to a few more free throws, but I don’t imagine they will shoot so poorly every game.
“No way in hell I shoot 6 for 25 again,” DeRozan said.
4. No challenge call on Zach’s charge
LaVine picked up his fourth foul half way through the third quarter on a controversial charge call.
Donovan’s decision not to challenge this was determined by a review by the bench team.
“Our guys behind the bench thought it was a charge,” Donovan said. “That’s what our guys behind the bench thought. So I didn’t bother challenging. I thought about it but with the way the game was going, it was relatively close. It was a one-point game at that point in time. To lose a challenge and not have it potentially at the end of the game, I just didn’t feel like it. If the guys would have said to me, ‘hey, I don’t think it’s a charge’ I definitely would have challenged. But when it was really close like that, I didn’t think it was the best thing to do at that point in time.”
Charge or not, it completely took LaVine out of the game. He picked up the foul with 6:41 to go in the third quarter and shot 0-for-6 the rest of the way.
5. Getting the ball in motion
One of the things I think Donovan did really well was getting the Bulls scorers the ball on the move to get open looks.
The Bulls ran this action over and over to get shots for DeRozan, Coby White and Zach LaVine.
Here, DeRozan gets the ball at the elbow and comes off two screens that free him up.
Here’s another version where Coby gets a wide-open three at the top of the key.
The Bulls have relied super heavily on isolation basketball over the last few months so it was great to see them put some more creative spin on their offense.
6. Bulls get nothing from Pat and Ayo
A combined 5 points on 1-for-5 shooting in 32 combined minutes between Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams. These two did not seem ready for the moment and Bulls need more.
“Those guys are going to absorb a lot of minutes, they’re going to play a lot of minutes and that’s certainly going to creep into other guys,” Donovan said.” And then you’re looking at a guy like Ayo or Coby, like who’s playing better at that time. I thought DJ (Derrick Jones Jr.) gave us really good minutes off the bench for the time he was in there.
So a lot of times, it’s going to be how’s a group playing together. Who’s playing well at that point in time. Does somebody need a blow. How is the group performing on both ends of the floor. What do the matchups look like. So it was just a night where he didn’t play a lot of minutes, but that doesn’t mean it was part of the plan coming in, it was just kind of the way the game went.”
The Bulls have two days off before Game 2. We’ll see what they cook up ahead of Wednesday.
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