Williams showed he can score, but Bulls need defense vs. Bucks in playoffs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (44) passes the ball over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Nathan Knight (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Bulls won 124-120.

    Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (44) passes the ball over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Nathan Knight (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Bulls won 124-120. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/11/2022 7:49 PM

Heading into the first Bulls playoff action in five years, it feels like victory would be winning a single game against Milwaukee and avoiding a sweep.

After all, the Bulls finished the season on a 7-15 slide since Feb. 26, while the Bucks are defending NBA champs and also a big, physical team that presents endless matchup issues.

 

Forward Patrick Williams will be an important player for the Bulls' hopes of staying competitive, but don't get carried away with his 35-point performance against Minnesota on Sunday.

The Timberwolves used three of five usual starters at tip-off, but were playing their third string in the fourth quarter. Williams last showed these high-scoring tendencies during 2021 summer league games, which also featured no front-line NBA players. He's a second-year pro who missed five months of the season recovering from wrist surgery.

Williams' scoring could help, but 10 to 12 points is more realistic in this series, which begins Sunday at Fiserv Forum.

"I think I just feel a little more comfortable out there," Williams said after the season-ending win. "I'm not sure if it's watching film or just watching the game after being out for so long. But I kind of see things a little bit better. Still had way too many turnovers, but it feels a little different. I'm not sure exactly what it is, maybe it's just having a year under your belt."

The key here is Williams being the Bulls' best chance against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not that they should expect Williams to slow down the two-time MVP, but this matchup went well when these teams met last week at the United Center,

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Earlier this season, coach Billy Donovan tried starting Tristan Thompson at power forward against the Bucks, and that probably isn't worth trying again.

The Bucks might be the NBA's most physical team and the 6-foot-11, 242-pound Antetokounmpo is the ringleader. He looks to create contact on every drive to the basket, figuring he'll either draw a foul or knock the defender out of the way.

In the April 5 game, Williams did a nice job of establishing defensive position and Antetokounmpo was limited to just 24 minutes due to foul trouble. Now, that may never happen again and center Brook Lopez more than picked up the slack by scoring 28 points that night.

Thompson isn't fast enough to stay in front of Antetokounmpo. Even at 6-4, Javonte Green is likely the Bulls' second-best defensive option.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Derrick Jones Jr., who played in the Finals with Miami in 2020, has made a case for being in the playoff rotation in recent weeks. And two-way player Tyler Cook started in a 94-90 loss at Milwaukee on Jan. 21 when the Bulls stayed competitive despite being severely short-handed.

"I think it's more about us and how we play," Williams said. "We can't really worry about them. We have to lock in to our habits. I think it's more of making sure we're connected offensively and defensively. We've shown when we're connected that way on both ends of the floor and all the guys are connected, we're pretty good. At that point it just turns into, 'Let's play.'

"First, we have to definitely come in with the mindset of we're going to be physical, we're going to be connected, we're going to be tough and we're going to fight. I think we can play with anybody, any team."

They can play with any team maybe, but can they beat a playoff opponent four times in a seven-game series? That appears to be a long shot, but every competitive minute they play should benefit the many Bulls making their postseason debuts, including Williams, Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. Green appeared in one playoff game for Boston during the Orlando bubble.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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