The Chicago Bulls need to push the pace.
The Bulls succeed when their pace is frenetic, bordering on frantic. They’re rarely the biggest or strongest team on the court — especially in their playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. But when the Bulls speed up to harass opponents on defense and push the open court on offense, they can take advantage of their small-ball mindset to disrupt a game.
The opposite happened in their jarring, 111-81 loss Friday in Game 3 against the Bucks.
“We have to run better,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “Our pace is way too slow. We’ve got to space the floor. We’ve got to run and we’ve got to get out. At times we moved way, way too slow.”
After Bobby Portis slotted in for Bucks forward Khris Middleton because of an MCL sprain, the Bulls should have entered Game 3 with the upper hand in speed. The Bucks started three players 6-foot-10 or taller, creating a towering presence that shut down the paint. With a smaller lineup of quick guards and adaptable forwards like Patrick Williams and DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls could have pushed the pace.
But they didn’t. The Bulls scored only five points in transition in Game 3, continuing a trend from Game 2 (six fast break points) and Game 1 (five points). Bulls guards hesitated when they caught the ball with numbers or space to attack, slowly bringing the ball up against a fully set Bucks half-court defense.
“They’re a terrific defensive team and they’re good in every area they protect,” Donovan said. “They get back in transition and they rebound. But when you have opportunities to get out in transition in open court situations where the floor — even if it’s not uneven, it’s cross matched or different matchups are happening, the side of the floor is overloaded — you’ve got to be able to attack. I didn’t think we played with enough pace.”
Transition ball comes less easily when the opposing team is making shots. The Bucks shot 51.5% from the field and 42% from 3-point range in the first three quarters before putting in bench players to ride out the final 12 minutes.
The lack of fast break offense for the Bulls was further stymied by the Bucks’ improved ball protection, which resulted in only nine turnovers after coughing up a combined 36 in Games 1 and 2.
“I can do a better job rebounding and pushing, getting the ball in my hands and playing a little bit faster,” guard Zach LaVine said. “But if we don’t get any stops it’ll be hard to get out in transition.”
Creating pace will need to be catalyzed by guards from the moment the Bulls rebound the ball. But LaVine said the team’s sluggishness also stemmed from an air of defeat after the Bucks took an early 19-point lead.
The Bulls looked exhausted by the end of the first quarter and defeated by the end of the half. But to grind out a series against the Bucks, the Bulls can’t allow a double-digit lead to crush their pace of play.
“When we take the ball out of bounds, we can’t hang our head,” LaVine said. “We’ve got to go onto the next play. Get it out fast, move on, push it up the court a little bit.”