The Bucks’ new defensive identity works, but, as the Bulls have proven, mistakes still happen

Milwaukee — With the Bucks and Bulls tied and a minute left in Wednesday’s game, Giannis Antetokounmpo has settled into the assistant defenseman at the right corner of the floor. With the Bulls using a small ball lineup, Antetokounmpo was covering Coby White, while Jrue Holiday took the game of Bulls star DeMar DeRozan and Jevon Carter was covering Zach LaVine.

As time went on, Nikola Vučević crossed to open DeRozan’s right elbow. Holiday followed closely and attempted to steal LaVine’s entry pass to DeRozan, but was too late to field the pass and instead settled behind DeRozan as the Bulls star went to work freeing himself for the biggest shot of the game. DeRozan backed Holiday down toward the middle of the floor and then came back toward the game-winner’s baseline.

When DeRozan got up to shoot, Antetokounmpo sprang into action.

With his back to Antetokounmpo, DeRozan had no idea Antetokounmpo would fly at him and try to block his shot, but it didn’t matter. With a final tweak in the air, DeRozan threw the basketball to White, who left Antetokounmpo open in the corner. nailed white 3.

“Do what I’ve been training for, do what I’ve been doing for years,” Antetokounmo explained. “I don’t switch defense, I’m going to block. You know DeRozan wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score the ball. He made a great pass. He usually doesn’t pass the ball there, especially on a tough bucket stretch like this, but today was one of those nights he did. He did.” He made the right reading, trusted his team mate and pushed the ball into the corner and we paid for it. But at the end of the day, our defense does not change.

“We depend on each other, we depend on the rivalry. Second off the floor. Like the guy trying to keep DeRozan in front of him and whoever’s closest trying to jump in and competing because the guy guarding him won’t jump because he has to stay on the fake pump. He doesn’t leave the floor. So we have to We’re there for our team. And that’s what we did today. At the end of the day, some days you lose games by doing the right thing. This is one of those games today, but we’re able to go home and be okay with ourselves because we did the right thing. It wasn’t It’s a lack of effort. We basically helped each other out and put in more effort than usual.”

Holliday added, “I think Giannis was trying—I mean, DeMar played really very well. He was cooking—and then we had a good one-on-one contest. DeMar made a great play into the corner and Kobe pushed it.”

While Antetokounmpo’s explanation makes sense from a logical perspective, it doesn’t seem to align tactically. Whereas in previous seasons, the play was not out of the ordinary. It was unusual to watch Antetokounmpo assist out of the near cornerback and leave the shooter wide open because the Bucks had emphasized taking the 3-point line off opponents since the beginning of training camp, a clear deviation from previous seasons under Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

And he succeeded.

Through 17 games, the Bucks have cleaned up their shooting profile defensively. The Bucks are still keeping teams off the rim this season, allowing only 28.6 percent of opponent shots to occur in the basket, per glass cleaning, but they’re also keeping teams off the 3-point line. While the Bucks have allowed among the most 3-point attempts per game in Budenholzer’s first four seasons, the Bucks have limited opponent 3-point shooting this season and opponents shoot only 32.6 percent of their shots from behind the 3-point line, which is fifth. Lowest total in the league.

“Giannis is competing. Jrue is competing. “DeRozan got a 36 and DeRozan fought back,” Budenholzer said of the defensive play with White’s three-point shot. “I think the competitive nature, the competitive fire, maybe burned us a little bit there. But when players are competing and players are playing hard, it’s hard to be too hard or too critical of them. But I think play is something where we have to keep working and where we have to keep getting better and we’ll look mechanism “.

Throughout Budenholzer’s first season in Milwaukee, Bucks players regularly talked about how to implement defensive strategy, no matter what. Even on nights when other teams were starting to fire from the middle range, the defensive strategy was clear. Early in Budenholzer’s first season, Antetokounmpo even explained the math which served as the theoretical underpinning of the entire defensive scheme.

But the Bucks didn’t stick to their 3-point focus on the defensive end on Wednesday. And it wasn’t the extra assist on DeRozan that allowed the Whites to open up on the corner 3 late in the game. The Bucks struggled to limit the Bulls by 3 all night and gave up 42 3-point attempts to the Bulls for an average of 28.5 3-point attempts per game, the fewest of any team in the NBA.

Look at how Wesley Matthews shuts down Javonte Green on this 3-point attempt in the first quarter.

And the space Bobby Portis gives Patrick Williams on these three in the second quarter.

In previous years, this pickup hadn’t held up. But this year, due to the Bucks’ shifting philosophies, they were completely out of place.

Just think of the two shots above, and then watch Bulls coach Billy Donovan explain why the Bucks have been so adept at limiting 3-point attempts this season.

With Lopez in the cover and back there, they’re really saying, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a couple of people manning the pick-and-roll. That is.’ “They were a team I think were elite, but a lot of them were based on scouting and preparation – and that’s just my opinion, I’m not going to talk to Bud about what he’s doing defensively – but there was the certainty of the guys they were going to take with them and some guys who were… They will live with basketball shooting.

“Some of those shots lead to 3s. To me, whatever way they do it—because of their size, their height, their basketball intelligence, their tactics—they’re only good on defense. But if you’re just asking me about the three-point line and what they do, they’re They’re very focused on the guy on the ball and Lopez or Portis or whoever’s there in the five, Giannis and they’re going to let those guys cover the rim and let those other guys have a limited amount of closing opportunities to the three-point line.”

All season, the Bucks haven’t defended the three-point line like they did against the Bulls on Wednesday. The Bucks have remained disciplined to assist defenders and have remained close to their duties off the ball rather than assisting once an offensive player gets an advantage over a baseline defender.

Watch Antetokounmpo in this fourth quarter 3 from Vučević.

Grayson Allen likely wouldn’t pressure Ayo Dosunmu in the backcourt because of the advantage and space it gave the Bulls’ young guard, but it’s hard to see exactly what he would have done as he drove to the basket. If Antetokounmpo takes one step at Dosunmu to slow him down and help Allen catch up before immediately dropping back to his man, Vučević doesn’t get an open 3. Instead, he slows down and Vučević takes a good look at the corner 3 in front of his own bench.

“They have good players and they hit the ball really well,” said Bucks’ Brook Lopez. the athlete of 42 3-point surrender attempts. “It’s tough because DeMar is such a heck of a player and he made a lot of powerful shots tonight, so it’s hard to find that balance. It was definitely a good learning experience for us. We’ve got some good movies to watch.”

The Bucks have worked hard to create a new defensive identity all season, but fell behind in that regard on Wednesday against the Bulls. This didn’t happen often so it shouldn’t be a huge concern, but the game serves as a good reminder of why they made these changes in the first place and the dangers of allowing too many 3-point shots.

(Photo by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Demar DeRozan: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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