Billy Donovan defends his offense, and Bulls’ win provides vindication

By Chicago 5 Min Read

INDIANAPOLIS — This game wasn’t a fix for the Bulls’ offense by any means.

It was progress, however, a small Band-Aid on a wound that is still an issue early in the regular season.

How long would it take these players to figure out exactly what coach Billy Donovan was asking of them, and, more important, would there be collateral damage before they did it?

Center Nikola Vucevic was hoping the team meetings and meltdowns were behind everyone.

“There’s definitely some positives,’’ Vucevic said after the Bulls’ 112-105 victory over the Pacers. “We know what works, and now it’s on us to do it.’’

On a spread-the-wealth night in which Vucevic scored 24 points, Zach LaVine had 23 and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 20, the Bulls (2-2) handed the Pacers their first loss of the season in impressive fashion.

They never trailed by more than eight points, and when it came down to the last five minutes, they weren’t perfect, but they didn’t blink.

It was by far the best all-around performance by Donovan’s squad, especially after putting up only 17 three-pointers.

But were lessons learned?

After an embarrassing loss in Detroit on Saturday — a game in which LaVine scored a career-high 51 points — LaVine was open about his frustration with Donovan’s offense and admitted that the group was still trying to make it work.

“We’re trying this new thing out to have a complete, cohesive offense, equal opportunity, and it’s going to take some figuring out,’’ LaVine said in Detroit. “Through the first couple of games, me and DeMar were in the corner a lot. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get involved with more touches.’’

Donovan said he hadn’t heard or read what LaVine said, but DeRozan had 33 points against Toronto, then LaVine dropped a 51-burger the next night, so it was hard for him to imagine that either player was stuck in a corner.

That’s why Donovan had no problem defending what he was asking of his offense since training camp started.

“I know when it’s just those guys [LaVine and DeRozan] and Vucevic; last year they all had elite offensive performances individually, and we still had the 24th-rated offense,’’ Donovan said. “Are there times those guys are in the corner? Yeah, we’ve got to space the floor. There’s a universal sacrifice that everyone has to make to have a good offense. It can’t be, ‘Hey, let’s throw the ball to DeMar, let him go [isolation]. Hey, let’s throw the ball to Zach and put him in the middle of the floor and go high pick-and-roll.’

“We have a body of work we can look at, and if we keep doing the same things, we’re going to keep getting the same results.’’

That’s why the performance against the Pacers was so important.

“Are we going to get there now?’’ Vucevic said. “We as players have to do what it takes to get there.’’

And Donovan will continue trying to help.

Donovan admitted that he simplified some actions out of training camp to help with the adjustment. He was asked if it was the offense that was confusing or the players just not having an understanding of what was being asked.

“There’s nothing that we’re running that these guys have not run before,’’ Donovan said. “It’s not so much a democratic universal style of play,’’ Donovan said. “Those guys got to be who they got to be. But I would bet you, even if it was a democratic style of play all the way through, that at the end of the year, Zach, Vooch and DeMar will be the three leading shot-takers on our team.’’

Point made.

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