The Bulls were in striking distance for much of this contest against the very good Milwaukee Bucks, even leading during large parts of it. But despite getting good offensive performances from Coby White and Zach LaVine, and continuing the overall uptick in 3-point shooting, it wasn’t enough.
The threes were plentiful and fruitful
First, the good. The Bulls outscored Milwaukee by 36 points from the three-point line. Coby White was on fire for the second straight game in a row, dropping 26 points and hitting six threes. LaVine added 25 points on 4 three-point makes. Milwaukee only shot 18.2 percent from deep as it was clear the loss of Khris Middleton has hurt them a bit in shooting production. Pat Connaughton was the only Buck to make two three’s in the entire game. The usually reliable shooters like Brook Lopez, Kyle Korver, and Wes Matthews all struggled mightily, going a combined three of 15 from three-point land.
This isn’t meant to show pure ‘luck’ in these attempts, as missing in this stat is context like Brook Lopez just flinging crap from 30 feet away.
Rim-ran into submission
Despite the higher production from three, the Bucks had a TS percentage of 57% in the game, and that’s because of their whopping 70 points in the paint. Chicago struggled with the Bucks’ overall size, and any time Milwaukee needed a basket, they would drive to the hoop and waiting for them would be either an open shot or foul.
The Bucks were lethal in pick and rolls and the Bulls defense was leaving free runners towards the rim. This left help defenders in no mans land, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe feasted on the defensive lapses, scoring 38 and 31 points respectively in the game.
On this play Lauri Markkanen and Coby White trap the ball handler Donte DiVincenzo, using the sideline as a third defender. However DiVincenzo is able to make the pocket pass and trouble ensues. With Giannis as the roll man, this sequence is quickly going against Chicago the instant he touches the ball. Kris Dunn, who is guarding Bledsoe on the play, drops down to the paint for help defense. He is instantly faced with a decision, either try and contest Giannis at the rim or go back to prevent the kick out pass to Bledsoe at the three-point line. Dunn chooses the latter and it results in a slam dunk for the Bucks.
Chicago also struggled to deal with the Bucks running all of their three-point shooters off of screens while Giannis is the ball handler. It focuses the defense to make a choice to hone in on stopping the shot attempt or forming a barrier to prevent Giannis from driving.
Above, Milwaukee threw in a wrinkle on the simple screen and dive cut to the basket play. Matthews starts in the corner and George Hill comes towards him to set a screen. White and LaVine are the defenders on this play. White is guarding Hill and doesn’t recognize that Matthews is cutting towards the basket after he receives the screen. The rookie stays with Hill and along with none of the two help defenders crashing down to the paint, it’s wide open. LaVine goes over the top of the screen to prevent the three and is already steps behind Matthews when he catches the ball. It’s a well designed play and one which caught the Bulls defense sleeping. There are a total of zero Bulls players who are even close to guarding Matthews when he steps into the paint. White swipes at the ball but that’s the last path of resistance Matthews has before laying it in.
The Bulls second half rotations featured a lot of guards, with a Coby White and Ryan Arcidiacono combo out on the floor for the final 15 and a half minutes of the game, and typically alongside a 3rd or even 4th guard.
In that time, the Bulls were only a -5 but they obviously weren’t enough to turn the game around, where the deficit hit double-digits to end the 3rd quarter and though within striking distance were never able to close the gap.
There were good parts of these lineups, but also definite deficiencies in literal size to defend Giannis and get the rebound. This was most crucial on a late possession where Arcidiacono himself was put on the reigning MVP, and while he gave an admirable contest the result was still a Bucks make.
In that long second-half stretch where both Arcidiacono and White were in the game, the Bulls allowed the Bucks to grab 46.7% of their available offensive rebounds.
After the game, here was Jim Boylen’s rationale for playing so many small players, assessing the lack of a defensive rebound as mere circumstance than anything he could’ve planned for.
In fairness to Boylen, it really hurts in this particular matchup that Otto Porter was unavailable. Wendell Carter had long-ago fouled out (he was a +2 in his 2:45 of 4th quarter minutes). Thaddeus Young had committed some terrible turnovers, and Chandler Hutchison is...also tall, so there wasn’t a clear better option, but there certainly were bigger options.
Although the Bulls didn’t get blown out and were in the game late in the 4th quarter, offensive possessions felt way too easy for Milwaukee. The help defense wasn’t there and the Bucks guards did a good job of finding the open man after the Bulls big man stepped up to help on the ball handler. The Bucks were getting any shot they wanted and feasted on the interior, getting to the line and pounding the offensive glass too. It was how even on a great shooting night the Bulls still couldn’t get it done.