Bulls vs. Bucks highlights: Corner triples, defense and DeMar prove to be a recipe for success

Their Chicago Bulls appeared to be orbiting the drain very early in the 2022-23 season after losing four straight games to fall to a 6-10 record. The Bulls certainly weren’t favored to win either of their next two contests against the East’s two most impressive teams, the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks.

But something changed, starting with an emphatic home win over a Boston team that was feeling slightly underpowered with Robert Williams III still sidelined.

Surely the Bulls wouldn’t fare nearly as well against the massive Milwaukee Bucks?

Apparently these bulls may be made of stronger material than we originally thought. Working in Milwaukee, Chicago eventually defeated the Bucks 118-113 in a hard-fought affair that at times threatened to run away from them.

So how did they do it?

Size didn’t matter?

The Bulls did what they could to neutralize the front line of giant Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and third big Bobby Portis (nobody’s favorite ex-Bull).

Billy Donovan was on his boys from the jump and called for an early timeout at the 70-second mark after Lopez hit two quick threes and Antetokounmpo cantered inside for an easy dunk. The Bucks still comfortably outplayed the Bulls with 50-34 paint points, so the Bulls countered with a relative barrage of three-pointers instead. The Bulls had their season-highest attempts of three out of 42 attempts and with commendable accuracy (42.9%).

Passing the Bulls also helped keep an elite Bucks defense on their toes, hitting 30 cents for the third time this year, a big improvement from their 24.3 season average.

On defense, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso got the lion’s share of the task at Antetokounmpo:

Caruso defended Antetokounmpo with the game very much at stake and Donovan favored clutch lineups that prioritized Coby White’s hot hand (more on that in a moment) over Williams’ size.

Even DeMar DeRozan and 6’10”, 279-pound Andre Drummond joined in, each expertly defending Antetokounmpo in Isos for a time. Granted, Antetokounmpo had 36 points (level with DeRozan for game high), 11 rebounds and seven assists… but he also coughed the ball up for eight turnovers and was called for five fouls.

A few other fun strategies were employed to take advantage of the bucks inside. Watch Nikola Vucevic cede the paint to Brook Lopez after Milwaukee’s starting center slides away from Vucevic while the Bulls make a pick for Zach LaVine. So Vucevic jumps out for a midrange splash, unable to find a helping defender and Lopez too far inside to recover in time:

The Bulls also made an aggressive attempt to nip the Bucks on the rim despite some elevation changes. Chicago had 12 blocks, the most this year. Five bulls each had two rejections. Milwaukee as a team had three.

Are Corner Treys the cops’ secret sauce?

The Bulls went 6-of-12 on their long-range looks from the corners against the Bucks, including 4-of-6 in the fourth quarter. They shot 12 out of 30 (still a good 40%) elsewhere beyond the arc.

Plenty of trebles were served by Zach LaVine (who went 0-of-2 from corners and only 3-of-11 from deep overall, but it was nice to see his dedication), Nikola Vucevic (2-of-2 from the corners, 4-of-10 overall from distance) and Coby White (2-of-2 from the corners, 4-of-7 overall).

Vucevic had actually entered the fourth frame, having shot just 1 of 6 from long range, while White has been in something of an extended shooting slump all season. Four of this duo’s five crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter came from the corners, both coming in with two possessions.

Here are the two corner towers of Vooch in this last period. Note the attention on the first game of a fully engaged Pat Williams who swerves in the left corner on a drive to Vucevic:

Now let’s look at Coby’s two massive clutch threesomes. The first tied the game at 109-109 with 1:15 in regulation. He weaves into the suit first, then passes back to Caruso and back into the corner behind the three-pointer, with the Bucks failing to properly communicate a defensive switch and leaving White wide open with plenty of time:

We’re going to talk about the second turn three in this next category.

During the season, Coby White produces only 31.3% of its 4.8 trees per night. But he’s never shot less than 35.4% three-pointers over the course of an entire NBA year, nor has he ever attempted fewer than 5.8 three-pointers. Like Vucevic last season, White got off to quite a cold start from the deep. But like any high-level shooter, he always believes he’ll make the next treble no matter what the slump. Last night, that mentality sealed the Bulls’ first clutch win of the year for both players.

DeMar DeRozan is incredible

I know I talk about this all the time, but it just needs to be repeated often: DeMar DeRozan remains an amazing basketball player even now, in Year 14. He has yet to reach the DeMVP level of consistent late-game point dominance quite accomplished this season, but maybe he’s not quite out of the All-NBA talk just yet. Another robust performance last night brought his season averages to 25.9 points on .524/.345/.887 shooting splits, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals per night in “just” 34.4 minutes during his first 18 competitions. That’s not too far from his 27.9 points in .504/.352/.877 shooting, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and .9 steals in 36.1 minutes per last season.

Check out this compilation of his multi-faceted brilliance, which includes a ton of drives with his standard midrange marks (and even a little defense) last night:

DeMar is so lethal of midrange right now that he essentially freed both Coby White and Nikola Vucevic to make their critical final Treys of the night. He provided eight assists and often seemed motivated to get his players involved.

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