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Featuring two seven-foot rim protectors and two press perimeter stoppers, the Milwaukee Bucks are an absolute menace of a defense.
It’s no wonder the Bulls only scored 86 points in Game 1.
A lot of the stuff the Bulls were running to get their offense was pretty good. Of course they devolved back into iso-ball at times, but that’s OK when you have DeMar DeRozan on your team. You can live and die with those isolations. Unfortunately, it was the latter on Sunday, but the Bulls have to do more to get the Bucks defense on tilt to open up driving lanes.
“The more stagnant you get against them, you’ve just got to get guys on the move,” Billy Donovan said. “Just because Lopez and Giannis are so big at the basket, protecting the basket. When you get the floor stationary, it becomes hard. We’re going to have to move, cut some and get guys on the move as much as we can.”
DeRozan likes to slow the game down and get to his spots out of isolations. And while those looks have carried the Bulls throughout the season, the Bucks primary defenders have been able to quiet him and push him off his spots. He’ll need to get himself going, but the Bulls should also look to incorporate as much movement as they can.
Here, Jrue Holiday follows DeRozan underneath the screens and pushes him from the elbow to nearly the three-point line. This happened all night with Wesley Matthews pushing him to the top of the key as well.
Donovan did his best to set DeRozan and LaVine up for success by putting them into earlier actions to get a step on their defenders. One of the staples was a zipper action into pick-and-rolls.
“We have different wrinkles, we hadn’t put that in beforehand. We’ll run different things. There’ll be different actions we run in there. Basically out of our concepts we already have in that are easy adjustments for the guys,” Donovan said. “But that was just something that was easy for us, and we had run some similar things to that, maybe not zipper up the lane, but some similar action that was easier for the guys.”
Just because the Bulls were running primary actions doesn’t mean they were executing quickly enough. Here, DeRozan gets a screen but takes too much time and allows the Bucks to stay on their original assignment.
The Bulls should be slowing down these games as much as they can, but they still need to act quickly and decisively when they have these scoring avenues.
It’s nearly impossible to go north-south against this Bucks defense without first going east-west. The Bulls have to put the entire Bucks defense on tilt and make the ecosystem work, not just any one given player. The best way to do that is to involve Vucevic, LaVine and DeRozan into the same actions.
The Bulls are at their very best when they force defenses to make tough decisions. That typically comes in the form of putting their best offensive weapons in sets together.
Though the Bulls added a lot more to their offense in this game than we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Bucks have brilliant defenders up and down their roster and were able to snuff out some of the more creative tricks the Bulls tried in previous matchups.
They end up getting a bucket, but LaVine could stand to do a better job selling the cut and forcing Brook Lopez further into the paint.
The idea here is to get the defense moving side-to-side. Getting the ball moving downhill with a defender on your hip is an inherent advantage. Either you have a straight line drive to the basket or someone else will step up and help. When that happens, the next guy is open.
Here’s another example of a play that incorporated all three of LaVine, Vucevic and DeRozan, freeing up a wide-open look from deep:
The more the Bulls can involve their big three in the same action, the more threatening they are. Defenses always want to help when a scoring threat has the ball in a place he likes to operate. So when the other scorers get involved, one of them should get some space.
Another play that comes to mind is something the Bulls used to run under Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen called “horns flare” to get Lauri Markkanen clean looks from deep.
A half-court “horns” set where the player who sets the ball screen immediately gets a flare screen from the player on the opposite elbow.
Imagine LaVine setting a screen for DeRozan at the elbow and as soon as DeRozan turns the corner, LaVine flares to the opposite wing over a screen from Vucevic.
This would look similar to the guard-guard actions where the screener slips out for a look. Which, by the way, the Bulls should do more of. They tried Coby White setting screens for DeRozan a few times, but nothing with LaVine slipping out of screens for open threes.
These are really good looks and it’s one of the most dangerous options the Bulls have at their disposal. If it were me, I’d spam these guard-guard actions until the Bucks found a solution. I’m not sure there is one.
Vucevic will need to make his threes and someone, anyone, else will need to step up and provide some points, but for the most part, the DeRozan and LaVine missed a lot of shots they normally make. They have the offensive gas to stick with the Bucks if they can get to an even higher level of offense where they are creating openings before they get the ball.
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