Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Warriors (01.17.18)

The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors make their only Windy City appearance this evening to close out the season series with the Bulls. Chicago suffered its worst defeat of the year in the first matchup in Oakland back on November 24, 143-94. Although the Bulls led 32-29 after the opening quarter, Golden State, who played without Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, torched the nets for 45 points in the second to take a commanding 74-53 lead by halftime and never looked back. By the end of the night the Warriors ended up shooting a blistering 58.2% from the field compared to 35.4% for Chicago. Two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry was the game's high scorer with 33 points, followed closely by teammate Klay Thompson's 29. Combined, the "Splash Brothers" shot 22-of-35 (62.8%) from the field and 9-of-20 (45.0%) from behind the arc. Jerian Grant came off the bench to play 28 minutes, and was Chicago's leading scorer with 21.

Golden State hits town having won three in a row, all on the road, and eight of their last 10 overall. In fact the Warriors have won 13 straight away from home and boast the league's top road record (20-3, .870). On Monday evening Kevin Durant scored 16 of his game-high-tying 32 points in the third quarter to lead the ‘Dubs to a 118-108 victory in Cleveland against LeBron James and the Cavs. The Warriors overwhelmed Cleveland down the stretch, outscoring them 61-44 in the second half and holding them to 6-for-23 shooting (26.1%) in the fourth.

The Bulls hit the hardwood riding their own three-game winning streak after defeating Miami 119-111 Monday afternoon at the United Center. Chicago's Zach LaVine has been making the most of his limited minutes the past couple of games. He returned to action Saturday against Detroit after an 11-month rehab from a torn left ACL suffered in February, 2017. LaVine, whom the Bulls are attempting to safely ease into the lineup by limiting him to just 20 minutes a game during his first week, shot 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from distance against the Pistons (14 points). He followed that up with a 7-of-12 and 2-of-4 effort against the Heat (18 points) the other day. In total, LaVine has shot 12-of-21 (57.1%) overall, and 5-of-8 (62.5%) from behind the arc in averaging 16 points over 19.5 minutes a game.

But it wasn't just LaVine who enjoyed a strong game against Miami. Justin Holiday connected on a career-best seven 3s and scored a game-high 25 points, while Lauri Markkanen chipped in 17 and nine rebounds, along with forward Niko Mirotic who scored all 18 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Chicago hold off the Heat.

As for tonight's keys, without a doubt the Bulls are going to need to play a hardnosed, physical game. As mentioned above, the Warriors are on a roll, thus Chicago has to come out of the gates fast and take charge by right away by establishing an aggressive pace and exceed Golden State's energy.

Offensively the Bulls want to strike quickly with everyone playing a role in the action. Thus for their offense to run smoothly they need to tap into their speed and athleticism, going hard after every loose ball and rebound in order to get into transition and post as many easy scores as possible. The ball must be shared, crisply bouncing from one side of the court to the other, from one player-to-another to generate open looks at the rim. So whenever the Bulls grab a defensive rebound look for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and anyone else in a red uniform to quickly push the ball up the floor with shooters sprinting to specific spots evenly spaced along the 3-point arc to draw the Warriors' defense out from under the basket. Chicago's best ballhandlers, in particular Dunn, LaVine, Grant, Holliday, David Nwaba and Denzel Valentine need to look for opportunities to drive the ball into the paint to force the defense to react. If Golden State slides down towards the basket or attempts to trap or double-team, Chicago's attackers need to make an adjustment of their own by quickly locating an open teammate on the perimeter for a free look at the hoop.

Chicago's plan each game is to put up between 85-to-90 shots overall, with at least 30 coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve both of these goals the Bulls have to stick to playing fast, but at the same time under control. They have to have to take care of the ball by keeping turnovers in check while also freely sharing it to force the defense to endlessly shift and expend energy.

Defensively, the Bulls are obviously going to need to keep their heads up and eyeballs on the 3-point arc as just about everyone with the Warriors, including Head Coach and former Bull Steve Kerr, can hit from downtown. Curry leads the way for the ‘Dubs in averaging 9.8 long distance attempts a game, hitting 41.4%. Curry's "Splash Brother," Klay Thompson puts up an average of 7.3 long-tosses and connects on a ridiculous 45.2% of them, while Kevin Durant is close behind with 6.2 liftoffs and a 41.3% success rate.

In short, Chicago is going to need to come out of the gates quickly and stay aggressive throughout the game. They must establish a fast pace and keep everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor. They have to hit the floor with a hardnosed mentality, and commit to outhustling and outmuscling the Warriors in every way.

Effort isn't necessarily an offshoot of having great talent, but rather it's the basis of a blue collar work ethic and a will to lay everything on the line to come out on top. If the Bulls can accomplish most of their goals, they'll give themselves a terrific shot of taking down the defending NBA champs.