Bulls, DeMar DeRozan get suffocated by Bucks' elite defense

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Bulls, DeRozan get suffocated by Bucks' elite defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Billy Donovan didn't think the Chicago Bulls played with enough pace.

Both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine cited the Milwaukee Bucks' adjustment to not only start a bigger lineup but also force any offensive action possible to the left side of the court.

Patrick Williams missed all nine shots.

Whatever the case, however you slice it, the Bulls' offensive performance in Friday night's Game 3 at a raucous United Center was positively offensive.

No fast-break points until the fourth quarter. Only three free-throw attempts until deep in the third quarter. Jumper after jumper — most of them contested — as the Bucks' elite defense walled off the lane and forced the Bulls into 39.3 percent shooting that was augmented by elite mop-up minutes from Tony Bradley.

This was ugly. This was historically ugly.

The Bulls trailed by as many as 37 points and the 111-81 final marked the largest margin of defeat in a home playoff game in franchise history.

"They responded the way they should've," DeRozan said. "Give them credit."

It's hard not to following such a demoralizing defensive presence from the defending NBA champions. You can watch all the film you want, kick and scream at the lack of bench production or rue the fact LaVine's burst and athleticism continues to be affected by his balky left knee that is headed for offseason attention.

Friday night had less to do with the Bulls and far more to do with the Bucks. These were the defending champions finally finding their identity and imposing their will on the series. These were the Bucks knowing they had briefly surrendered homecourt advantage with their Game 2 loss and playing without an All-Star in Khris Middleton and coming out inspired.

"Obviously, Zach and DeMar can go for 40 (points) any night," said Bobby Portis, who ably stepped in for the injured Middleton with 18 points and 16 rebounds. "We wanted to make them play in a crowd."

The Bucks accomplished that. LaVine said the Bulls eventually solved the Bucks' adjustment of forcing everything to the left side by hitting somebody — often Nikola Vučević — with a pocket pass and swinging the ball to the other side. But the Bulls missed too many of those resulting shots.

After his 41-point masterpiece in Game 2, DeRozan managed just 11 points and only took nine shots in 32 minutes.

"I wasn't frustrated at all," DeRozan said. "I knew they were going to make adjustments. What adjustments that was going to be, I didn't know beforehand. Got a feel for it throughout the game. But by the time I kind of got a feel for it, they had it rolling. You gotta give them credit. Now it's on us to make our adjustments."

Donovan wants to see the Bulls play with more pace. That doesn't necessarily mean more fast-break points, although those are welcomed and certainly posting any before the fourth quarter would be beneficial. It means trying to push the ball upcourt faster to try to get the Bucks' defense in scramble mode as opposed to set mode, where a favorable matchup might produce a better shot.

"If we take the ball out of bounds, we can't hang our head. We just gotta go on to the next play. Get it out fast. Move on. Push it up the court a little bit," LaVine said. "I feel like I can do a better job of rebounding and pushing, getting the ball in my hands and playing a little bit faster. And we gotta throw the ball up so we get transition opportunities."

This is where the Bulls so badly miss Lonzo Ball, who is elite at the throw-ahead pass. LaVine also noted how it's difficult to push the ball upcourt when you're taking the ball out of bounds after a made basket. So getting stops is critical.

LaVine only got to the free-throw line one time. Initially, he mostly stayed on the perimeter. Eventually, he started attacking, but it's clear he's not getting to the rim with the same and ease and athleticism as earlier this season.

"I've been limping all season, bro," LaVine said, when asked how his knee feels. "I'm gonna be alright."

The Bucks continue to concede the 3-point shot. Vučević sank his first two attempts before missing his next five and finishing 3-for-9 from that distance.

As a team, the Bulls connected on just 9-of-34 from 3-point land. Coby White missed five of six 3-point attempts, part of a rough night from the bench and the youngsters. Williams only managed one point.

"It's a miss or make league," LaVine said. "You can do what you can on defense. But we get on the offensive end, we gotta make shots. Me, Vooch, DeMar, we gotta do our job too."

It's a quick turnaround with a noon tip on Sunday at the United Center. The Bucks' defense has already set off alarm bells.

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