Nikola Vučević taking a bigger scoring role gives the Chicago Bulls a boost in playoff series with Milwaukee Bucks – The Mercury News

It’s rare for center Nikola Vučević to take the most shots on the Chicago Bulls.

Although he was used to being the primary scorer during his decade with the Orlando Magic, Vučević stepped into a more complementary role in the Bulls offense after arriving in a March 2021 trade. His scoring average of 17.6 points in his first full season in Chicago was nearly seven points lower than in his last season with the Magic (24.5), while he took almost five fewer shots per game (15.8 versus 20.6).

But in the first two games of the Bulls’ playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Vučević broke this trend to match fellow stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine in offensive output. His production his made the difference for the Bulls as they return from Milwaukee with the series tied 1-1.

In Game 1, Vučević led the Bulls in scoring with 24 points while taking the most shots (27) on the team. Although he suffered from the same shooting slump that plagued the entire roster — going 9-for-27 and 2-for-10 from 3-point range — his scoring was essential to the Bulls keeping pace in the 93-86 loss.

“Everybody on our team, nobody really cares who takes the shot,” Vučević said. “We all need to be aggressive. We all need to take the shots that are there.”

Vučević’s high volume of shots continued in Game 2 with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting. Both figures were second to DeRozan’s postseason career-high 41 points on 16-for-31 shooting as Vučević balanced a well-rounded attack by the Bulls big three.

The Bucks defensive style caters to Vučević as a pick-and-pop big man. Although his main focus his is to carve out a presence in the paint, Vučević ‘s shooting from behind the arc and even in the midrange allows him to stretch the Bucks defense in a way traditional post-up centers ca n’t replicate.

Vučević’s scoring map in Game 2 emphasized the importance of this versatility — four made shots behind the arc, two in the midrange, two in the paint and two at the rim. His two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter landed haymakers on the Bucks to cut their late-game runs short.

“That’s just the way they play defense,” Vučević said. “They collapse in the paint, they take the paint away from teams and they don’t give up the 3, but that’s the shot you’re going to get. You have to make that shot to be able to beat them.”

Although Vučević’s outside shooting was in the spotlight Wednesday, he can unlock the entire offense when he clicks in the middle of the paint — especially by supplying second-chance opportunities.

The Bulls had six offensive rebounds in Game 2 and Vučević was responsible for half of them, including two critical offensive boards in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to set up the Bulls for game-clinching baskets.

“When the defense is out of place, there’s room for us to get offensive rebounds,” Vučević said. “At the same time, we also have to be careful not to all crash because it leaves us out of position.”

Like many of his Bulls teammates, Vučević isn’t big on celebrations. Although his frustration is often transparent, he rarely even tosses up a hand gesture to celebrate a made shot, typically pointing at the teammate who assisted him as he jogs back up the court.

But when Vučević hit his second 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of Game 2 to solidify the Bulls lead, he couldn’t hold back. He punched at the air with both fists, then patted his chest with a confident head nod.

“It’s the playoffs,” Vučević said after the win. “Every moment is big. Every game is big.”

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