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MILWAUKEE — With the way the regular season ended, it felt like the Bulls were going to roll over in Game 1. But to our collective surprise, they more than held their own.
The Bucks shot only 40.5 percent from the field and 26.3 percent on threes. But how much of that was good defense and how much was unlucky shooting?
The buzzword between playoff games is ‘adjustments’ and there will definitely be some things Billy Donovan and his coaching staff need to change for Game 2. For the most part, though, the Bulls implemented a good defensive strategy.
Rather than making any global revisions to their game plan, a few key areas need to be tightened up.
1. Build a wall and make Giannis pay
Alex Caruso said it best: “[Giannis] is a really good player. If you don’t put multiple bodies in front of him, he’ll get 50 layups and score all of them. It’s just about us trying to help each other.”
The Bulls strategy, like most teams hoping to limit Antetokounmpo, is to wall off the paint and make life difficult every time he drives the ball.
The key here is to get bodies in the paint at the elbows and blocks to force Antetokounmpo to barrel into 10 limbs if he wants a layup. To do this, the Bulls need to funnel him into awaiting help defense by closing off the open space on the floor.
While the Bulls largely did a fine job, there are plenty of examples of allowing him to drive along the sideline, and around the help, all the way to the rim.
“He likes to go left, they clear out that left corner for him a lot,” Caruso continued. “So when he comes out and iso’s he can test the baseline.”
This had a huge impact on the 11 offensive rebounds they allowed, which led to easy dunks when the Bulls were out of position.
“It wasn’t even necessarily an adjustment, it was what we should have been doing from the beginning,” Donovan said. “You’ve got to understand where he is, on what side of the floor, where your help is coming from and what position you need to be in. There were too many breakdowns on that part of it.”
2. Help and recover
Antetokounmpo has developed his post-game to the point where his fade-away jumper is just as potent as his long drop step and dunk moves.
The Bulls have to send two players at Antetokounmpo when he’s in the post to get the ball out of his hands and make the surrounding shooters beat them.
It’s inevitable that confusion and breakdowns will occur, but if you look at the 10/38 three-point shooting, it’s a little surprising the Bucks didn’t make more of these considering how open they were.
The Bulls also had trouble on multiple occasions where they sent three to the ball instead of two. This is a product of lack of communication and it leaves the backend of the defense responsible for defending three players at once.
3. Attention to detail in transition
Donovan called a timeout 25 seconds in the third quarter. The Bucks had just gotten a transition layup after a made basket. It happened again and again, leaving shooters open, allowing Antetokounmpo to beat them down the floor.
It’s especially not acceptable when it happens after a made basket.
There’s not much in the way of learnings you can take away from this play. The Bulls simply have to be smarter and more aware.
“Get back in transition,” Donovan said. “We had a made basket coming out, it was an eight-point game, we cut it to six. And it’s the first possession on defense. We did not have good enough awareness coming down the floor.”
Here’s a combo example of not funneling Antetokounmpo into the wall and not being back in transition. He’s just too much of a handful, they need to give themselves every advantage by taking these easy shots away.
The Bulls had a real opportunity to steal a game on the road, despite their offensive woes. Though there were plenty of things to like about the Bulls’ approach to defense, part of their success in getting stops was simply the Bucks missing open shots they typically make. I would not expect that trend to continue in game two.
All the more reason to ratchet up the attention to detail.
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