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Takeaways: Chicago Bulls twin towers and Coby White's clutch offense in loss to Cavs

Will Gottlieb Avatar
February 15, 2024

The Chicago Bulls nearly came away with a win against the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, but fell late 108-105.

It was a winnable game for the Bulls, who at one point were up by 17 points. But led by Donovan Mitchell’s 30 points, the Cavs stormed back to win in the final possessions.

With the loss, the Bulls fall to 26-29 in their final game before the All-Star Break.

Here are my two biggest takeaways from the game.

The challenges for Nikola Vucevic playing alongside Andre Drummond

The Bulls have been experimenting with a double-big lineup over the past few games, and for the most part, it has been successful. Coming into their matchup with the Cavaliers, the Bulls were +14.6 points in the 169 possessions both Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond shared the court, which lines up with the eye test.

With Drummond’s bruising around the rim and Vucevic’s ability to facilitate and shoot from the perimeter (though the shooting has admittedly been a problem of late), the duo has gobbled up offensive rebounds without sacrificing (too much) floor spacing and ball movement. The duo have done well to walk that line.

Up against the imposing Cavs frontcourt, though, Vucevic struggled with the length and speed of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.

Let’s start with the floor spacing element.

Vucevic, who shot 1-of-5 from deep, was completely neglected on the perimeter, as the Cavs opted to send two-to-the-ball and leave Vucevic all alone.

With the way Vucevic has struggled from deep this season (27.7 percent), the Cavs were more than happy to let him shoot and beat them.

He did not.

Vucevic finished with nine points on 4-of-16 shooting with only eight rebounds, while Drummond had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with 15 boards.

But it goes beyond just makes and misses. With Drummond occupying the post or dunker spot, and DeMar DeRozan either handling the ball on the initial screening action or operating as a floor spacer, the Cavs loaded up the paint and doubled the ball, cutting off the middle of the floor.

This had a similar effect when Vucevic had the ball in screening action. With Drummond planted in the paint, there were no driving lanes for Vucevic, no entry points for him to seal and post up. With his shooting being out of commission, all Vucevic has left is his attempt closer to the rim. In this lineup configuration, this element of scoring disappears, and prevented Vucevic from getting into a rhythm offensively — an issue that had ramifications later in the game.

Watch here as Vucevic drives into space, but is forced to settle for mid-range pullups instead of plodding his way to the block.

Clearly, the Bulls were afraid of the Cavaliers ability to offensive rebound, so they sold out with the double-big lineup to shut off that element of the Cavs attack. That part of the plan worked — they held Cleveland to just six offensive boards on the night.

The Drummond and Vucevic combination shared the floor for a total of 19:37 minutes. The Bulls were -4 during their minutes. Not ideal.

I’m sure we’ll see more of the twin towers look as the season progresses. And while it has worked well to this point, it has limitations, as the Bulls are now coming to realize.

Coby White gets his chance in the clutch

Recently, fans have lamented Coby White not touching the ball in late-game scenarios. But tonight, he finally got his chance.

White was dominant against the Cavs, scoring 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-8 on threes and 5-of-6 from the line. He chipped in seven rebounds and four assists. Playing as well as he did, he earned the opportunity to be the lead playmaker in the crunch-time.

During the final four plays of regulation, White was involved in the primary action. On two occasions, the Bulls ran pick-and-roll with White screening for DeRozan, then slipping to the wing to space the floor and become a three-point threat.

On the first play, DeRozan drew both defenders, allowing White to slip free. DeRozan made the correct read, finding White for an open three, which he drilled to re-tie the game following a clutch Mitchell three on the other end.

The Bulls ran a similar action a few trips later, and Cavs wing Max Strus pushed White to the ground. He made both free throws to keep the game close.

Another time down, White pushed the ball ahead in transition. He kicked it out after his drive was cut off, but the ball found him again as Vucevic passed on a three-point attempt. Vucevic and White flow into ‘get’ action where Vucevic hands the ball off and immediately gets into a pick-and-roll. White drives, draws two and throws a dart to a rolling Vucevic, who couldn’t corral the ball.

“If I slow down, I think I can make the right read,” White told traveling reporters in Cleveland. “I thought Vooch was going to pop to the three. But he made the right play coming in because I had took on Mobley, I knew he was going to be hard to finish over. So I think if I put the pass on the money, he’s got a layup or he got one of his floaters that be automatic.”

“So I feel like in that moment, I just have to slow down a little bit more and make the right read,” White continued. “I think my intentions was right, finding Vooch, he was open cause I took Garland, I took DG and Mobley. I just gotta make the pass, I gotta slow down. I feel like I was too frantic.”

This is all spot on from White. The pass was a big hard and too high, and while it’s possible Vucevic catches that on another day, that’s quite besides the point. White acknowledged that he was sped up in this moment, and through more reps, he will get it down. The duo run this action constantly — it was the moment that sped him up, not the ability to make the play.

Billy Donovan also drew up the final play for White, coming off a screen to catch-and-shoot a deep three in an attempt to tie the game at the buzzer. The jumper fell short, but it was nice to see Donovan ride White on this trip, especially with the team needing a three.

White’s progress as a leader this season is right there with his on-court play. If that growth is any indication, the Bulls are going to be scoring more often than not as he continues to get more reps in these scenarios.

Up next: ALL. STAR. BREAK.

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