I wasn’t expecting much from the Bulls heading into this first-round series against the Bucks, and they quickly fell into a 16-point hole in the first quarter of Game 1 on Sunday night. It looked like they were about to get embarrassed yet again by a top-notch opponent, which would have just been continuing a trend from after the All-Star break.
Instead, the Bulls battled in this game, locking down on defense and making life difficult for the defending champions. The Bulls forced 21 Bucks turnovers and held them to 40.5% shooting. The Bucks missed their share of good looks from 3-point range (10-of-38), but the Bulls did a good job of making life difficult for them, especially when Giannis Antetokounmpo was off the floor (he was plus-19 and only played 34 minutes).
Unfortunately, despite fighting back and leading by as much as five in the third quarter and holding a lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulls weren’t able to get it done.
Let’s look at some takeaways from the tough loss.
This L is on the Bulls stars
So many of the Bulls’ losses down the stretch of the season featured them getting absolutely torched defensively and not being able to keep up offensively. This game was shockingly a rock fight, with the Bulls doing their best defensively to keep them in it.
But it was to no avail, because the Bulls’ star trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic let them down in this game. They combined to score 60 points on 21-of-71 shooting, which can’t happen from your three star players.
The Bulls fumbled away a big opportunity to take control of the game early in the fourth quarter when the Bucks stumbled themselves and only scored one point in the first four and a half minutes of the final frame. The Bulls only scored three points during that span (an Alex Caruso 3-pointer), with LaVine and Vooch both really struggling offensively over this stretch.
DeRozan had arguably his worst game of the season, shooting 6-of-25 and not doing anything to melt the DeFrozan playoff narrative. The Bucks did a good job making life difficult for him with physical man-to-man defense, but DDR also just shot like crap and didn’t get it done. DeRozan went 2-of-8 inside the paint and 4-of-15 from mid-range. He has been taking and making tough shots all season, though he could do a better job not forcing looks when he’s not hitting.
He insists it won’t happen again:
DeMar DeRozan: "I don't know what the hell was going on. Probably a week off. It just wasn't me. Every shot felt good. I guarantee you me, Vooch and Zach aren't going to miss that many next game."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 18, 2022
On to Vucevic, who had a wild game. Vooch legit did battle hard all game, and there were times where he took over, including in the third quarter as the Bulls made their comeback. But his overall stat line is such a mixed bag: 24 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal looks great, and, but he shot just 9-of-27 from the field, including 3-of-11 at the rim and 2-of-10 from 3-point range, where those three point attempts were almost all wide-open and the misses felt like rally-killers.
I’ve complained about Vooch backing down from challenges this season. He didn’t back down from the challenge in this Game 1, but that shooting percentage is still flat-out unacceptable especially because the Bucks seem fine giving him these opportunities.
LaVine’s game was similar to a number of others of late. He had his moments of brilliance but ultimately just didn’t do enough as he fights through his knee injury, shooting 6-of-19 from the field. Like Vooch, he was 2-of-10 from 3-point range and missed a decent look at a game-tying attempt with about 30 seconds left. You could argue that was a questionable shot selection, but I understood the two-for-one intent and it was a pretty clean look. Like so many others, though, he just missed it:
LaVine also had a brutal sequence at the end of the first half, missing a bunny on one end and then committing a dumb offensive foul, his third.
That brings us to the officiating.
I’m not going to blame the loss on this refs, but there were several bad calls that were noticeable in this game. LaVine’s 4th fourth foul came on a questionable charge call, especially bad considering Giannis got the benefit of the doubt on a very similar drive on DeRozan later in the game.
Then, in crunch time, Giannis could’ve easily fouled out but drew a total gift call against Patrick Williams:
Clean play from Giannis with 5 fouls pic.twitter.com/RTrMgypjLU— Chip Jones (@ChipJNBA) April 18, 2022
Mike Budenholzer weirdly did the job on Giannis anyway by removing him for a couple possessions, but this was still a terrible call.
Billy Donovan was asked about these calls after the game. He claimed he had a good reason for not challenging LaVine’s fourth, but also said he thought Giannis fouled Williams on that late play. So then why did Donovan ultimately pocket his challenge? It was one of his few misfires on the night.
The Bulls’ support group was a mixed bag
Donovan made the right call to start DeRozan, LaVine, Vucevic, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams. Unfortunately, that lineup got off to a brutal start (it was 9-0 Bucks a minute and a half in), and the Bulls just didn’t get enough help from the supporting cast with the stars struggling so much.
Caruso did find a groove in the second half, taking over the game defensively after a wretched first half in which he got in foul trouble and wasn’t even close on his open 3-point shots. The guard did make that 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and grifted his way into multiple charges while annoying the shit out of the Bucks with his hard-nosed defense. The Bulls looked something like the first half of the season Bulls with their defensive effort after the first quarter, and Caruso deserves a lot of credit for this.
Coby White had a nice stretch in the third quarter, and he wound up with 12 points off the bench. Unfortunately, he missed a couple great looks in the fourth quarter during that early stretch of the fourth quarter where nobody could make a shot.
A problem was nobody else did much of anything. Pat was mostly invisible in his 23 minutes. Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. played hard and did some nice things defensively, but they’re just total non-threats. Ayo Dosunmu only played nine minutes and took one shot while handing out two assists. Tristan Thompson was pretty much useless and probably shouldn’t play.
Donovan did try a number of different looks with these guys, including DJJ at the 5 (and at the 4 alongside Thompson, which should never happen), but the Bulls just have too many guys who don’t do anything offensively. Nobody else was able to step up enough with the main guys struggling, which ultimately produced a team-killing 7-of-37 from three-point range.
The bottom line is that the Bulls need their All-Stars to hit shots, but it sure would help if the supporting cast did more. The latter might be asking a bit too much, so we really need to see Chicago’s star trio step up to the plate in Game 2.
I really can’t complain about the Bulls’ effort in this one, because it was some of the best they’ve brought to the table in a while. But it also makes the stars’ struggles that much more disappointing, because they let a prime chance to steal through their fingers.