A pair of dismal defeats at home showed the Chicago Bulls the limits of their star duo: DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine can do a lot, but they can’t do it all.
The Milwaukee Bucks defense clamped down on DeRozan and LaVine in Games 3 and 4 of the first-round playoff series, holding them to 26 and 47 combined points. That’s a steep drop from their combined average of 52.3 points during the regular season.
The Bulls can’t beat the Bucks without their stars performing at their best. But DeRozan and LaVine are being held back even further by a lack of shooting from the Bulls supporting cast.
“One guy isn’t going to beat them,” LaVine said. “They were crowding the paint, and once I break that first line of defense, they were sending guys into the lane and not letting me and DeMar try to beat them.”
DeRozan set a personal postseason record in Game 2 with 41 points in the Bulls’ only win of the series. After making his final basket with 18.2 seconds left, DeRozan collapsed onto the court, visibly spent by the effort of producing 36% of the team’s offense.
But the Bucks didn’t give DeRozan a chance to repeat that feat in two games at the United Center. He scored only 11 points in Game 3 as the Bucks pushed him away from his spots his. The Bucks rarely utilize a trap on either DeRozan or LaVine, but the swiftness of their help defense allowed them to keep DeRozan out of sync throughout both games.
DeRozan said he wasn’t angry about his lack of adjustment, but the Bucks pressure clearly flummoxed him and the rest of the Bulls.
“I wasn’t frustrated at all,” DeRozan said after the Game 3 loss. “I knew they were going to make adjustments. What adjustments that was going to be, I didn’t know beforehand. By the time I kind of got a feel for it, they had it rolling.”
Bench and supporting players are crucial to maintaining offensive production when defenses key on a star like DeRozan. But that secondary production has been relatively nonexistent for the Bulls in this series — and for much of the regular season.
The Bulls bench ranked last in the league in nearly every meaningful offensive category, including points per game, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage. The unit is averaging 14.3 points in this series despite significant garbage time in Game 3 and Alex Caruso’s injury absence for the second half of Game 4.
Meanwhile, reserve guard Grayson Allen was the star for the Bucks in Games 3 and 4, popping off the bench to score 49 points with 11-for-14 shooting behind the arc.
These shortfalls are exacerbated by the fact the entire Bulls roster — starters included — isn’t shooting well.
Donovan noted that the Bulls created 19 chances in Game 4 for corner 3-pointers — one of the highest-percentage shots — but made only five of them. The Bucks, in comparison, made four of their five corner 3s.
“You have to make some shots,” Donovan said. “I think that our inability to make some jump shots deflated us. When they’re kind of packing the paint, we’ve got to forget it. We’re going to have to take some of those shots.”
Bench depth never was a strong suit for this Bulls roster, and Lonzo Ball’s injury deepened the disparity. Caruso’s potential absence in Game 5 only would worsen the problem.
This might not be an issue the Bulls can fix without making roster changes, but the difference in bench units will decide this series. Whether it’s Coby White heating up from 3-point range or Ayo Dosunmu coming alive, the Bulls need a secondary spark. Without it, the Bucks will be free to hang all over DeRozan and LaVine.
DeRozan knows his role is to lead off the court as well as on it. Even on the heels of two blowouts, he said he’s emphasizing belief in his teammates as the Bulls head back to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Wednesday.
“You can’t show panic,” DeRozan said.