Bulls’ NBA Playoff run ends with Bucks blowout

5 observations: Bulls’ postseason ends with Bucks blowout originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

MILWAUKEE — The Chicago Bulls’ season is over.

After netting the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed by amassing a 46-36 regular season record, the franchise’s first playoff trip in five years ends in a five-game defeat at the hands of the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Game 5, which the Bulls played without Zach LaVine (health and safety protocols) and Alex Caruso (concussion), finished with a final score of 116-100.

Here are five observations:

Severely short-handed

For a window into how short-handed the Bulls played this game, look no further than Billy Donovan’s first-quarter lineup combinations.

And while the Bulls espoused a “next man up” mentality in the wake of LaVine and Caruso’s ailments, they simply weren’t staffed for the occasion. White (4-for-13), Brown Jr. (2-for-9), Jones Jr. (1-for-5), Green (0-for-5) and Dosunmu (1-for-4) combined to shoot 8-for-36 from 3-point range.

The silver lining was a second straight 20-point performance for Williams, who tallied 23, made nine of his 13 field-goal attempts (4-for-7 from 3-point range) and save for a few first-quarter possessions, stepped into his shots confidently.

Deferential DeMar

DeRozan took just one field-goal attempt in his 12 first-quarter minutes as the Bucks continued to target him defensively. Off every screen, there emerged two defenders. On every drive and mid-post touch, multiple bodies shaded into his path.

DeRozan countered by passing off to open teammates. The problem, as it was all series, is the Bulls didn’t convert on those opportunities.

In that scoreless first quarter, the Bulls generated plenty of open jump-shots, but shot just 4-for-16 from 3-point range. And there could have been more if, on one fateful possession, Dosunmu (twice), Williams and Vučević didn’t all eschew open looks after seeing previous attempts to go wayward.

DeRozan scored for the first time midway through the second quarter on a reverse layup, and finished with 11 points, 7 assists and a 5-for-10 shooting line. As for the rest of the Bulls’ offense?

Shooting struggles

The Bucks’ defensive scheme, which prioritizes packing the paint and concedes a ton of 3-point attempts, is a big part of what made this series a nightmare matchup from the Bulls’ perspective, on paper.

In practice, that dynamic was even more damaging than projected.

The Bulls set a season-high — and new franchise record — by launching 52 3-point attempts in Game 5, but made just 15 (28.8 percent). That actually raised their postseason 3-point percentage to 28.3, and their 3-point attempts per game to 36.8, eight more than their last-ranked regular-season average.

The worst performers relative to expectation were Vučević and White.

Vučević, who has expanded his range over the course of his career and had postseason scoring success against the Bucks in the recent past, followed his 31.4 percent 3-point shooting regular season by going 13-for-42 (30.9 percent) from distance in the playoffs. He missed six of his first seven long-balls in Game 5 before finishing 3-for-9.

White, who projected to be an X factor because of shotmaking ability off the bench, underwhelmed to the tune of an 8-for-29 line from deep in his first postseason action.

Simply put, the Bucks forced the Bulls into a style of offensive play they weren’t comfortable with, especially without Lonzo Ball and LaVine. It showed.

Dominant Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo opened the scoring with an authoritative putback slam off of a missed Bobby Portis 3-pointer.

It was a harbinger of things to come.

The reigning Finals MVP completed his utter domination of the Bulls by posting 33 points (11-for-15 shooting, 14 free-throw attempts), 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes. He averaged 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists with a +86 plus-minus for the series.

With Caruso out, Donovan started Green on Antetokounmpo in this one (while Williams slid over to Jrue Holiday), and the Bulls continued to both hurl double-teams his way and throw bodies at him on drives. It didn’t matter.

Bitter breakdown

The Bulls trimmed what at one time was a 29-point first-half deficit to 11 at the 9:32 mark of the third quarter. Forced turnovers and transition run-outs were the key.

But by the start of the fourth, the Bucks had steadied themselves to reclaim a 23-point advantage. By game’s end, it was 16, but the contest wasn’t as close as the final score.

Between 30- and 24-point home losses in Games 3 and 4, and Wednesday’s rout, the Bulls dropped the final three games of this series by an average of 23.3 points after leveling 1-1 with a road win in Game 2. It’s a bitterly disappointing end to a largely positive season — and a tad microcosmic of their regular-season trajectory.

At the All-Star break, the 38-21 Bulls owned a share of first in the East. Two months later, they’re a non-competitive first-round out.

Next up: The offseason, which should be plenty busy.

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