The Chicago Bulls never came back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series, so the chances of them winning the next three games against the Milwaukee Bucks were already slim before Zach LaVine. health and safety protocols introduced for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
After a glimmer of optimism came after the Bulls Winning Game 2 in Milwaukee, now we return to our regularly scheduled pessimism, which is already happening. No one believed the Bulls had a chance before the series started, and after the crushing losses at home and LaVine’s status, no one believes it now.
But the schedule says the game must go on if the Bucks plan to advance to the second round. And if you’ve been following this story since training camp, you owe it to yourself to tune in once more for what is expected to be the Bulls’ last run.
The Bucks are clearly a superior defensive team, keeping the Bulls inside and forcing them to try to beat them from the perimeter. Without Lonzo Ball in the lineupthis is a strategy that works well for Bulls opponents.
But the Bulls were also their own worst enemy, missing open jumpers and getting little bench production. Of the 16 playoff teams, the Bulls ranked last through Monday in points per game (94) and field goal percentage (39.8%), and were second-to-last in three-point shooting (28%).
They were also in last place in free throw attempts per game (15.3) — nearly five short of the 15th-place Toronto Raptors (20.2) — further evidence of their inability to go down. against the more physical defenders of the Bucks.
“From Game 3 to Game 4, there are just a few good habits to defend as a team and keep everyone accountable,” said Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. “People took pride in keeping the guys in front of them with that mentality. … It’s a very, very good habit.
“We did it in game 3. We did it in game 4. And hopefully we can do it in game 5 and finish (the series). That’s how we play. Our defense must always be on.”
If LaVine is unable to participate in Game 5, it will be DeMar DeRozan’s responsibility to carry the Bulls on his back again. He’s done it before, but expecting him to do it again and again in the playoffs is a lot, especially with the best defenseman in Jrue Holiday keeping him from getting to his favorite spots.
There is also a share of luck here. Late in another disappointing first half Sunday, with the Bulls down 15 points, DeRozan hit a three-pointer from the right corner that looked dead. But the ball went out as the United Center crowd groaned in unison, and the Bulls never got closer than eight in the second half.
On Tuesday, DeRozan said he trusts his teammates to do whatever it takes, adding: “I’m using their aggressiveness – no matter how they attack me, snatch the ball out of my hand (or) whatever it is – just getting my teammates involved. on command and figuring out, choosing and choosing their places.”
DeRozan averaged 27.9 points on 50.4% shooting in the regular season, but those numbers dropped to 23.3 points on 40% shooting in the first four games of the playoffs, including his 41 points in Game 2.
The Bucks committed to holding back DeRozan and LaVine, who also dropped from 24.4 points per game during the season to 19.3 in Game 4. If he is unavailable on Wednesday, Nikola Vucevic is expected to increase his goalscoring load. Vucevic averaged 19.5 points in the series compared to 17.6 in the regular season, despite a drop in shooting from 47.3% to 42.1%.
“They have great players there,” Holiday said. “It’s hard to play one on one. They have great scorers. So we just want to see a few people[defend]and have our defense swarm and play at the same intensity as they did in the last two games.”
Bulls coach Billy Donovan did a lot for his five starters in the first two games with Javonte Green, Kobe White and Ayo Dosunma, three players whose regular season contributions have helped keep the team afloat through injury and COVID-19. related absences. It makes sense to give more playing time to his best players and it worked in the second game.
White end-of-season shooting decline continuedas he only made 31% (9 of 29) of his field goals and 4 of 16 3-pointers.
With Lavin and Caruso gone, those three reservists, as well as Derrick Jones Jr., will have to reinforce their positions, as they did on many occasions during the regular season. Dosunmu hit back-to-back 3s in the third quarter on Sunday to briefly give the Bulls hope they could pull off a 22-run miracle before Antetokounmpo stiffened up inside and Grayson Allen dropped another 3.
From there, the Bucks crashed out looking like the defending champions again. Allen did not play in the first two games. to lights out in shooting in 22- and 27-point performances in games 3 and 4.
“The first two games of the series are zero and (three) points,” Allen said. “It’s okay. I still know I can do it. I was able to get an opportunity in the last two games and I did it. Just a constant reminder: don’t let that bad voice take over.”
That’s a lesson the Bulls reserves should learn in Game 5. What happened before Wednesday is meaningless, and every new day is an opportunity to prove yourself.
For them the season starts now.