Milwaukee Bucks’ backcourt must sustain defensive intensity after Game 1

Apr 17, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Given the handful of talented scorers that the Chicago Bulls have, the Milwaukee Bucks would have to tighten up on the defensive end in their first round series.

They did a solid job in that regard in Game 1, having held the Bulls to 86 points on 32.2 percent shooting from the field in a closely-contested victory. As expected, a significant portion of the Bulls’ production came from their trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic, but they had their share of struggles offensively as they combined to score 60 points on 21-of-71 shooting (29.6 percent) shooting while racking up nine turnovers. Chicago’s leading trio looked uncharacteristic from the opening tip, and a prominent reason behind that was the defense from Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews in this Game 1 clash.

Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews played a key part in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Game 1 win over the Chicago Bulls due to their defense

Holiday was primarily tasked with guarding LaVine throughout this matchup, and he did a great job of limiting his contributions on the offensive end. According to, LaVine tallied nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-5 from three, across 31.20 partial possessions when defended by Holiday. Holiday’s secondary assignment was defending DeMar DeRozan, who scored just four points on just 2-of-6 shooting across 21.10 partial possessions. The All-Defensive guard had his hands full defending these two lethal scorers, but he did an incredibly impressive job limiting their production whenever they were matched up, which proved crucial in this seven-point Bucks’ win.

While Holiday’s defense on Chicago’s two All-Stars was beyond impressive, his numbers when he was matched up with Nikola Vucevic are also eye-popping. Vucevic, a 6-foot-10 center, scored just two points on an abysmal 1-of-7 shooting when defended by the 6-foot-3 Holiday. Despite being 55 pounds lighter than Vucevic, Holiday consistently held his own when matched up with the big man, having utilized his strength to prevent him from backing him down in the post. There are not too many point guards playing that could do this on the defensive end, but Holiday’s excellence on that side of the basketball was on display throughout the matchup.

Matthews also held up defensively as he was primarily matched up against DeRozan. Across the 38.30 partial possessions that these two were matched up, DeRozan missed all four of his shot attempts. DeRozan did score four points during that timeframe as he drew two shooting fouls on Matthews, but aside from those two fouls, Matthews did a fantastic job of pestering DeRozan throughout their matchup. Given how long the two went at it, only four shot attempts by DeRozan is interesting, as it highlights just how much Matthews limited him on that side of things.

The defense from Milwaukee’s starting backcourt was solid, and they will have to keep it up as this series progresses. Every member of Chicago’s Big 3 is capable of going off for more than 30 points on a nightly basis, but if players like Holiday and Matthews can make it as difficult as possible for them to do so, it would boost Milwaukee’s chances in this series tremendously.

Following the game, DeRozan vowed to the media that he and his fellow stars would play better offensively moving forward. Transcribed by Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune:

"“I don’t know what the hell is going on,” DeRozan said. “Every shot I took felt good. I guarantee me or Zach (LaVine) or Vooch (center Nikola Vučević) aren’t going to miss that many shots again… No way in hell I shoot 6 for 25 again.”"

It will be fascinating to see how this battle of offense and defense between the Bucks and Bulls transpires throughout this series. After a subpar Game 1 showing, DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic will look to come out aggressive on the offensive end in Game 2, and the Bucks will need Holiday and Matthews to keep the pressure on defensively right from the opening tip.

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Be sure to catch Game 2 between the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls this coming Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. CST on TNT.