I am admittedly all aboard the #LoseForLuka train, and I am also admittedly afraid that the Chicago Bulls are going to derail that train because they currently look like a polar opposite basketball team from what they did a week and a half ago.
After four straight wins that were debatably easy matchups, the Bulls pulled off a shocker in Milwaukee tonight and took down an extremely solid Bucks team in
their own house the Bulls’ home away from home by a final score of 115-109. Bobby Portis posted a new career high, Nikola Mirotic finished the game hot after a slow start, and the Bulls simply played fabulous team basketball all night long to earn win number five of their season’s only victory streak.
I don’t know how Robin Lopez manages to consistently be the only Bull that comes out ready to go in the first quarter, but that’s exactly what happened yet again through the first four minutes of this game. Lopez scored all six of Chicago’s points during that stretch as every other Bull stunk it up on both ends. Conversely, the Bucks dropped 15 points of their own out of the gate, and much of it had everything to do with Valentine’s terrible defensive awareness. Color me surprised.
Predictably, when David Nwaba checked in for Valentine, the Bulls managed to dig themselves back in the game. However, to be fair, much of the their forthcoming 20-7 run over the next four and a half minutes had to do with everyone on the court for the Bulls shooting better. Bobby Portis scored eight points during that stretch, including two cleanly swished threes from the same spot on as many attempts. Additionally, Nwaba added five points and a steal, and Kris Dunn hit two jumpers after missing his first four shots while also dishing three assists. Nwaba had no intention of the Bulls relinquishing the lead in the first quarter with finishes at the rim like this:
Not merely satisfied with finishing over two defenders at once, Nwaba got it done on defense for the rest of the quarter too:
The combined scoring efforts of Portis and Nwaba off the bench—supplemented by a continued strong game from Robin Lopez—allowed the Bulls to conclude the first quarter with a 33-30 lead.
Milwaukee came out hot once again to begin the second quarter, but the Bulls managed to go stride-for-stride thanks to a persistent stellar scoring performance from Bobby Portis. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the first half, as every time the Bucks seemed like they were about to separate themselves significantly on the scoreboard, the Bulls rallied themselves back in the game. Nikola Mirotic bounced back from a bad first quarter—though he committed a particularly unsightly turnover—while Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant gave the Bulls strong play from the point throughout the second quarter. Though the Bulls forseeably had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout the first half, Chicago still managed to take this game into the locker room with a 59-58 lead.
Oh, and here’s the obligatory remarkable Nwaba play of the second quarter:
David Nwaba scores on the baseline again and 1. pic.twitter.com/HM26od3AxE— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 16, 2017
Contrary to the pattern of behavior from earlier in the contest, it was Chicago that played the better basketball upon re-entering the court. Nikola Mirotic looked like the absolute silkiest version of himself in the initial stages of the second half, not only passing the ball exceptionally well, but also putting a few dazzling fakes on defenders to set himself up for beautiful shots:
The Bucks clawed themselves back into the game over the course of the third quarter after the Bulls led by seven at one point, but they still spent the majority of the period playing catch-up with Chicago. Much of that had to do with Robin Lopez continuing to abuse Milwaukee’s lack of a true center, as he scored six points for the quarter on 3-4 shooting. Unfortunately, everyone else on the Bulls struggled to get anything going on offense, and the Bucks got solid enough contributions from their starters to knot the score at 82-82 heading into the final twelve minutes of play.
Bobby Portis—affectionately referred to as “Mr. Mad” by Stacey King—single-handedly kept the Bulls in this game over the first half of the final quarter. Portis scored eleven points during that stretch, achieving a new career high of 25 points with plenty of time to spare. Milwaukee did not back down, however, as Khris Middleton refused to relent with his own brilliant overall offensive performance.
With the game knotted at 100-100 at just underneath the five minute mark, the Bulls simply played smarter basketball to regain the lead and remain in front for the remainder of the gamer. After eight straight points as a result from defensive fouls on Milwaukee, Mirotic hit an absolutely back-breaking three with just under three minutes left to put the Bulls up five:
He followed that up with a miraculous And-1 finish, but perhaps even more miraculous was the fact that BOBBY PORTIS DAPPED HIM UP AFTERWARDS:
Niko and 1!! Portis gives him a bump afterwards. pic.twitter.com/tQTmddc52M— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 16, 2017
From there, Chicago played good enough defense in the final minute to salt the game away with freethrows in the dying seconds. The Bucks simply did not shoot well from the perimeter all night—they desperately missed Tony Snell (lmao)—and Niko’s aforementioned heroics proved to be too much for the Bucks to overcome. The Bulls walked out of United Center North with their fifth straight with to the tune of a 115-109 final score.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, this was quite simply the best game of Bobby Portis’ career, as Mr. Mad (I love this nickname) scored 27 points on 9-16 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds in only 29 minutes. He did so while not making a three point field goal after the first quarter, yet still shot 40% from deep, and additionally made all seven of his freethrow attempts. In his postgame interview, he jokingly remarked that this is the first time he’s actually felt like he’s won five games in a row in the NBA, but what was most telling was that he was smiling. If Portis continues to play with consistent controlled aggression as he did this evening, I can absolutely see him having more games like this in the future.
Incredibly, despite a terrible first quarter and Portis’ own relentless slaying of the Bucks, Nikola Mirotic managed to rally himself into a 22 point scoring night complemented by seven rebounds. He played an exceptional second half, which is an extremely good sign given his reputation for either starting a game hot to the finish or putting up a stinker throughout. I will have more on Mirotic’s terrific return to the court later this weekend, so stay tuned!
David Nwaba continued his stellar play of late with a line of 13 points, 8 rebounds, and three steals. Kris Dunn bounced back from a weak shooting start to finish with 17 points on 7-12 shooting alongside seven assists while also playing great defense on Eric Bledsoe. Robin Lopez scored a tough 18 points on 9-14 shooting to keep the Bulls alive during some key stretches on the night when the rest of the team went cold.
After a 3-20 start to the season, the Chicago Bulls have suddenly won five games in a row, with their latest win easily the most impressive. The entire team moved the ball with grace while committing few turnovers, got to the freethrow line thirty-five times, shot about as well as you can ask, and played great defense. Despite the close final score, it was truly one of the most complete victories for the Bulls in recent memory, and easily their most of that variety this season. I don’t want to call it a fluke, because having watched it from start to finish, I can say with a clear conscience that Chicago earned this victory on the road in Milwaukee tonight.
The Bulls get the weekend off before getting a shot at six in a row Monday night at home against the Philadelphia 76ers.