SAN FRANCISCO – The Bulls and Warriors couldn’t be built any differently.
That was on full display in Friday’s 119-93 Bulls loss at the Chase Center.
Golden State came into the night leading the NBA in three-pointers made with 15.7 per game, and second in attempts with 42.4.
A long-range attack that had the home team sitting atop the Western Conference, and a nightmare to have to match-up against.
The foundation of the visiting Bulls team?
Ground and pound on defense, and a few mid-range assassins led by veteran forward DeMar DeRozan. The three-pointer for the Bulls is something they would like to improve on, but won’t rely on. Evident by ranking last in the league in both three-pointers made per game (10) and attempted per game (27.3).
Both teams resemble top contenders in their respective conferences so far, and while the three-pointer seems to carry more weight in today’s NBA for a sustained postseason run, this 2021-22 season feels much different.
Rule changes in how offensive players can draw fouls, as well as three-point percentages down across the board, have made this a bit of a throwback to what the Association was in the late 1980s and 90s. Physicality and defense, and the mid-range are back.
That’s why Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers praised the Bulls last week, singling out how important the addition of DeRozan was to this roster. It didn’t show against Golden State, as DeRozan struggled in the shooting department, but after a hot first quarter he wasn’t the only one.
When asked why DeRozan does fit in so well with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic – before the center went into the health and safety protocols – Rivers pointed out the ease in which DeRozan has always been able to get to the mid-range and how it usually complemented players around him.
“He gets his shot, man, and he’s one of those guys in this new three-point love-fest league that at end of games and in the playoffs, it’s the in-between two that kills you,’’ Rivers said. “So [the Bulls] have a bona fide closer in that because he can get his shot when he wants his shot and that makes them very tough.’’
Not just regular-season tough, either.
As Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo have shown the last few seasons, championships can be won by players who understand the power of the mid-range and outside-the-paint twos.
No one knows that more than LaVine, who had his mid-range game all but taken away by the Bulls two seasons ago, when the analytics department and former coach Jim Boylen wanted LaVine either attacking the rim or shooting the three. The mid-range was frowned upon, and while LaVine played the role of good soldier, he couldn’t stand that philosophy.
The way LaVine saw it, playoff defenses go harder, and that means sitting in front of the rim and running shooters off the three-point line. The mid-range is the Achilles Heel. Playing alongside DeRozan this season has reiterated that to LaVine.
“DeMar gets to his spot and he’s made a whole career off of it,’’ LaVine said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to turn that shot down because it’s not like the defense affects him if the shot goes in or not.’’
DeRozan didn’t turn it down very often Friday, but he also didn’t make many, as the three-ball won the night. It usually does for the Warriors.
Through three quarters, Golden State had built a 24-point lead, shooting 12-for-34 from three, while the Bulls were a dismal 5-for-22 in trying to keep up.