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Bulls vs. Bucks highlights: corner triples, defense, and DeMar prove to be a winning formula

the Bulls kicked off their road trip in style last night

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Your Chicago Bulls looked to be potentially circling the drain very early into the 2022-23 season, having lost four straight games to fall to a 6-10 record. The Bulls were certainly not favored to win either of their next two contests against the East’s two most formidable squads, the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks.

But something changed, starting with an emphatic home win against a Boston team that felt slightly undersized with Robert Williams III still sidelined.

Surely, the Bulls wouldn’t fare nearly as well against the massive Milwaukee Bucks?

Apparently, these Bulls might be made of stronger stuff than we had initially suspected. Chicago went to work in Milwaukee, eventually besting the Bucks 118-113 in a hard-fought affair that at times threatened to run away from them.

So how’d they do it?

Size didn’t matter?

The Bulls did what they could to neutralize the jumbo-sized Milwaukee Bucks’ frontline: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and third big Bobby Portis (nobody’s favorite ex-Bull).

Billy Donovan was on his guys from the jump, calling an early timeout at the 70-second mark after Lopez had scored two quick triples and Antetokounmpo had galloped inside for an easy dunk. The Bucks still roundly outscored the Bulls in paint points, 50-34, so instead the Bulls countered with a relative barrage of three-point shooting. The Bulls had their season-most attempts from three at 42 attempts, and with commendable accuracy (42.9%).

The Bulls’ passing also helped keep an elite Bucks defense on its toes, reaching 30 dimes for just the third time this year, a big improvement over their season average of 24.3.

On defense, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso got the lion’s share of the assignment on Antetokounmpo:

Caruso defended Antetokounmpo with the game very much on the line and Donovan preferring clutch lineups prioritizing Coby White’s hot hand (more on that in a bit) instead of the size of Williams.

Even DeMar DeRozan and 6’10”, 279-pound Andre Drummond got in on the fun, with each defending Antetokounmpo capably in isos for a spell. Granted, Antetokounmpo did notch 36 points (tied with DeRozan for the game high), 11 rebounds and seven assists... but he also coughed up the ball for eight turnovers and was whistled for five fouls.

A few other fun strategies were employed to exploit the Bucks’ advantage inside. Check out how Nikola Vucevic cedes the paint to Brook Lopez after Milwaukee’s starting center slides away from Vucevic while the Bulls big sets a pick for Zach LaVine. So Vucevic springs out for a midrange splash, with nary a help defender to be found and Lopez too far inside to recover in time:

The Bulls also made an aggressive attempt to stifle the Bucks around the rim, even despite some height disparities. Chicago had 12 blocks, its most this year. Five Bulls had two rejections apiece. Milwaukee as a team had three.

Are corner treys the Bulls’ secret sauce?

The Bulls went 6-of-12 on their long-range looks from the corners against the Bucks, including going 4-of-6 in the fourth quarter. They shot 12-of-30 (a still good 40%) elsewhere beyond the arc.

Heaps of triple attempts were hoisted by Zach LaVine (who went 0-of-2 from the corners, and just 3-of-11 overall from deep, but it was nice to see him stay committed to the cause), Nikola Vucevic (2-of-2 from the corners, 4-of-10 total from long range) and Coby White (2-of-2 from the corners, 4-of-7 overall).

Vucevic had actually entered the fourth frame having shot just 1-of-6 from distance, while White has been in something of an extended shooting slump all season. Four of that duo’s five critical fourth-quarter threes came from the corners, both arriving on back-to-back possessions.

Here are Vooch’s two corner treys in that final period. Note the awareness on the first play of a fully-engaged Pat Williams, who passes out of traffic on a drive to Vucevic in the left corner:

Let’s now look at Coby’s two massive clutch threes. The first knotted the game at 109-109 with 1:15 left in regulation. He first weaves inside the paint, then passes back out to Caruso and backs into the corner behind the three-point line, with the Bucks failing to properly communicate a defensive switch, leaving White wide open with plenty of time:

We’ll talk about the second corner three in this next category.

On the season, Coby White is making just 31.3% of his 4.8 treys a night. But he’s never shot lower than 35.4% on triples over the course of a full NBA year, and he’s also never attempted fewer than 5.8 threes. Like Vucevic last season, White had been off to a bit of a cold start from deep. But like any high-level shooter, he always believes he’s going to make that next triple, no matter the slump. Last night, that mentality for both players sealed the Bulls’ first clutch victory of the year.

DeMar DeRozan is amazing

I realize that I talk about this all the time, but it just bears frequent reiteration: DeMar DeRozan remains a fantastic basketball player, even now, in year 14. He hasn’t quite yet hit that DeMVP level of consistent late-game scoring dominance this season, but maybe he’s not quite out of the All-NBA conversation just yet. Another robust performance last night pushed his averages for the season to 25.9 points on .524/.345/.887 shooting splits, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.0 steals a night, in “just” 34.4 minutes, through his first 18 contests. That’s not too far removed from his 27.9 points on .504/.352/.877 shooting, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 0.9 steals in 36.1 minutes per last season.

Just gaze upon this compilation of his multifaceted brilliance, featuring a ton of drives mixed in with his standard midrange makes (and even a little defense), last night:

DeMar is so lethal from midrange right now that he essentially freed up both Coby White and Nikola Vucevic to make their critical final treys of the night. He dished out eight assists, and frequently seemed motivated to get his players into the action.