The Bulls were once again without Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson in a game they needed to win in Milwaukee, and at first it looked like they were going to cruise to victory behind an explosive offensive attack. Because nothing is ever easy with this team, the Bucks, who were without Khris Middleton, stormed back and nearly erased a 19-point deficit before Jimmy Butler came to the rescue to give the Bulls a 102-98 victory.
Butler followed up his first career triple-double with arguably an even stronger performance, putting up 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds on a ridiculous 10-of-11 from the field. He made all nine of his two-point shots as the Bulls as a team shot 32-of-48 from two for the game.
Butler's biggest plays came after the Bucks had cut the Bulls' big lead down to one late in the fourth quarter. After a few empty possessions, Butler took the game into his own hands with two straight buckets, and then he hit a huge shot in the final minute that put the Bulls up four after the Bucks had trimmed the margin back down to two.
Not only was Butler brilliant offensively, but his defense was big in the fourth quarter as well. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 34 points, but Butler helped slow him down in the fourth quarter after The Greek Freak took it to Mike Dunleavy and Justin Holiday early. And speaking of Holiday, he too hit a big shot after struggling with his shot for much of the night.
The Bulls also got big contributions from Pau Gasol (16/8/8) and Nikola Mirotic, who had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. Nobody else scored in double figures besides those three and the Bulls shot just 7-of-26 from three, but it's also notable that they racked up 30 assists on 39 baskets.
Besides Giannis, Jabari Parker had a stellar showing with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis did some nice things off the bench. But Ennis also had a few gaffes late in that fourth quarter when the Bucks were trying to complete their comeback, and the Bulls were able to take advantage.
A note on Giannis: it's pretty wild he's able to do what he does with basically zero shooting around him, and especially tonight without Middleton. The guy put up 34 points and nine dimes on 14-of-22 shooting as a 6'11 point guard. Imagine what will happen when the Bucks add shooting and/or HE adds a jumper. They're going to be a problem with that Giannis/Jabari/Middleton core if they can add the right pieces around them. But I digress.
The Bulls really needed this one tonight to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, and things almost got really interesting when the Pacers blew a huge lead at The Garden against a Knicks team without Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Jose Calderon. However, Indiana narrowly avoided the collapse to keep Chicago two games behind them.
So the Bulls are two back of the Pacers and effectively three back of the Pistons with five games to play thanks to tiebreakers. Chicago doesn't necessarily have to win out to get in the playoffs because Indiana stinks and Detroit has a tough closing schedule, but it may basically come to that. The Bulls have road games against the Grizzlies and Heat coming up before facing the Cavaliers at home and then closing the year at the Pelicans and home against the Sixers.