The Bulls upset the Bucks both times in Milwaukee earlier in the year, but it wasn’t going to happen a third time when the two teams got together for a Sunday matinee at the United Center. In a game that was mostly non-competitive, the Bucks cruised to a 110-96 victory to hand the Bulls a fourth straight loss.
Quite frankly, this one stunk. Early start times can often lead to ragged games, and both teams looked at the beginning like they were out on Rush St. until 4 a.m. They combined for 16 points in the first seven-plus minutes of the game. This sequence was a perfect encapsulation of the shitshow:
Welcome to the Bulls-Bucks matinee game pic.twitter.com/00h3g4hm5d— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 28, 2018
Play started to pick up a bit after that, but it was mostly the Bucks doing the damage. Even though Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to score in the first half, Milwaukee’s offense found a rhythm and smoked the Bulls’ porous defense. 40-year-old Jason Terry and Proviso East product Sterling Brown provided strong minutes off the bench, while Khris Middleton led the way for their starters. The Bucks racked up 21 first-half assists and went 10 of 16 from long range to run out to a 61-42 advantage at the break.
The Bucks were a bit stagnant in the second half (only seven assists and 3 of 12 from 3), but they never allowed the Bulls to make an extended run or even get the deficit under double figures. That’s because Giannis was a one-man show. The Greek Freak had 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the second half, scoring in a bevy of ways. He hit dunks, pull-up jumpers and tough fadeaways. The only thing he couldn’t do was hit free throws. He finished with 27/9/8 on 11-of-19 shooting after making only two of his first nine shots.
Meanwhile, Denzel Valentine was one of the few Bulls to show a pulse. He came off the bench and immediately hit three straight floaters to momentarily stem the tide of badness. He wound up shooting 8 of 12 from the field for 18 points (though only two in the second half). Most surprisingly, he made all six of his 2-point attempts, with most of those being floaters. That kind of shot is important for Valentine because he’s so ineffective getting all the way to the rim, and he really had it going in this game.
Lauri Markkanen had a double-double with 17 and 10, but it was a quiet 17 and 10. He also became Finland’s leading scorer in NBA history, so congrats to him on that.
Jerian Grant’s stat line of 15 points, five assists and four rebounds while shooting 6 of 10 looks nice, but it’s not indicative of how he played. The offense again struggled to get into a rhythm with Grant running the show, and he missed open guys on simple reads. Here’s maybe the most egregious example:
Lauri Markkanen is seven feet tall yet he is still somehow always a huge blind spot for Grant pic.twitter.com/FBy3MTVEj1— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 28, 2018
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Bulls badly miss Kris Dunn’s pace and penetration. The Bulls’ shot quality simply isn’t the same because Grant dribbles too much and can’t get to the same spots on the floor that Dunn can.
Speaking of shot quality, Zach LaVine’s continues to be poor. He missed his first nine shots before making his last two to finish with six points on 2-of-11 shooting. Not coincidentally, both of his makes came on aggressive drives to the basket. He has been really struggling with his jumper after his hot start when he first returned, and part of the problem is poor shot selection. Again, struggles are understandable given his situation, but he could help himself by not jacking up so many tough jumpers.
On the positive side, LaVine did make some nice reads as a passer and finished with five assists. He also had three steals and showed some capable on-ball defense, with one real nice sequence against Giannis.
The Bulls are now 18-32 and have several days off before embarking on a three-game road trip that begins in Portland on Wednesday. Fred Hoiberg said Dunn might travel with the team for the trip, but his status is unclear. If he remains out, expect the Bulls to continue to struggle.