Donovan wants more space, pace vs. Bucks in Game 4 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Several times in the direct aftermath of the Chicago Bulls’ blowout loss that shifted homecourt advantage back to the Milwaukee Bucks in their best-of-seven playoff series, coach Billy Donovan said he wanted to review the game film to confirm initial impressions.
Donovan and his team did that Saturday afternoon at the Advocate Center in advance of Sunday’s Game 4.
And both in Donovan’s first answer from his postgame media session on Friday night and again following Saturday’s film review, he reached the same conclusion.
“They were the aggressor, the more physical team,” Donovan said Saturday. “They set that tone very, very early in the game. And we did not respond as well as we needed to, really, on both ends of the floor.”
This physicality came in part from Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s decision to start Bobby Portis for the injured Khris Middleton. Though Donovan said the decision didn’t catch the Bulls off guard, talking about the possibility and experiencing it are two different things.
Portis finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds and added more size to a defense already elite and rim protection and walling off the lane. Nothing came easy offensively for the Bulls, who didn’t record a fast-break point until the fourth quarter and didn’t crack double-digit free-throw attempts until mop-up time.
“You’ve got to make quick decisions against them,” Donovan said. “They do a really good job with their length and size protecting the rim. When you get in there, you have to make good choices and wise decisions.”
But it wasn’t just Portis. Grayson Allen checked in and aggressively drove the ball after creating space with 3-point shooting. The Bucks used textbook transition defense to keep the Bulls stuck in mud and relying on halfcourt offense that simply doesn’t have enough options these days.
Yes, DeRozan authored a 41-point performance in Game 2. But he took just nine shots before sitting out down the stretch in a nod to the blowout loss and Sunday’s early tip. Zach LaVine continues to play through his balky left knee, limiting his burst off the dribble and athleticism. And past the Bucks conceding open 3-point looks to Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls aren’t getting much of anything from Patrick Williams, Coby White or, in limited minutes, Ayo Dosunmu.
Williams missed all nine shots and scored one point. According to Donovan, Williams wasn’t as aggressive as he needed to be early and then overcompensated.
“I didn’t like the shots in the fourth quarter,” Donovan said. “I think there were some opportunities for him to be aggressive in that first half and particularly in the third quarter. And when he came back in after that, I think he was trying to be aggressive but probably didn’t take the right ones then. He has to be aggressive. It’s important for our team and it helps us when he does that. He’s gotta be a little more forceful when those opportunities come.”
Multiple times, Donovan cited the need for better spacing. Friday night, he added the need for faster pacing.
Pace and space were buzzwords when the Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg, and they’re important again in this series.
Donovan rightfully downplayed the significance of Sunday’s noon start time, even if it marks the earliest tipoff of the season. It’s the same for both teams. And neither team overplayed their starters because of the lopsided score.
Otherwise, Donovan said the Bulls are mentally in a good place and again pointed to the formative experiences these games are creating for a core that is playing its first season together.
“They’ve got to wrap their head around the fact whether it was a triple overtime game and lost on a halfcourt buzzer beater or we lost by 75 points, it’s all one game,” Donovan said. “And I think when you come out of a game, whether you win by 30 or lose by 30, there are residual effects that come from that. I think that’s for any competitive group of guys.”
How the Bulls respond on Sunday will be telling. Donovan said each game of a series reveals a little bit more about a team.
The Bucks have regained homecourt advantage, with the emotional and demonstrative Portis even shimmying once on a United Center court he once called home. What are the Bulls going to do about it?
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