Regression to the mean is a common occurrence in sports. This proved to be the case, once again, for the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. Like in Boston on Wednesday, the Bulls were competitive. This time it was for a half instead of just a quarter. And they weren’t just competitive, they were dominant.
However, when the offense began to sputter in the third quarter, the wheels fell off. It aided a 78-point second half for the Milwaukee Bucks as they took the game from Chicago in a 123-104 blowout.
After struggling the past couple of games, the Bulls’ offense exploded in the first. This was as good of a quarter we have seen from them offensively since opening night against Philadelphia. Chicago was quickly up double digits, 19-6, within the first five minutes. They rode that early wave to start the game 10-of-16 from the field and ended up dropping 40 points in the quarter. It was former Buck Jabari Parker who was the guy who led the way, dropping 15 points in the opening frame. He looked locked in and even was dangerous from deep as he knocked down three long-range attempts. Justin Holiday was also on fire from deep.
The Bulls got a boost from their opponents in the Bucks, who early on looked disjointed and sloppy with the ball. Milwaukee ended up scoring 27 points in the first quarter, which was a fair start given how they began the game. Scoring 10 points in the opening six minutes will put any team down in a deficit and Milwaukee is no exception. In all, it was a really good start for the Bulls.
The second quarter turned out to be the antithesis of the first. The teams scored a combined 41 points, but the Bulls still maintained their double-digit advantage at the end of it. Nobody scored for the opening couple of minutes before a Shaq Harrison free throw ended the drought. The Bucks were only able to close the gap to as little as 12 in the second as the Bulls seemed to knock down a jumper every time the momentum was on the verge of shifting.
The last two and a half minutes saw a wild sequence where Justin Holiday decided to take over for Chicago offensively. He scored Chicago’s last nine points of the half, knocking down three triples in a row. The last one was especially nice as Holiday pulled up in transition at the top of 3-point line, fired, and hit nothing but net. Thanks to the solo run of Holiday, the Bulls walked into halftime up 63-45.
Overall, Chicago was shooting flames in the first half. They shot 54.3 percent from the field and 64.7 percent from 3. The ball was zipping around the perimeter (17 assists in the first half) and guys were being found for open shots. Holiday and Parker were the leaders for Chicago with 18 and 17 points, respectively, along with shooting a combined 9-of-10 on 3-pointers.
As for Milwaukee, they were much worse than Chicago with 43.7 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3. As per usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks with 11 points along with seven rebounds. The Bulls had matchup problems with him for much of the night, but in the first half they were able to keep him under wraps. There were times in that half where it was Robin Lopez guarding him, but somehow Chicago didn’t get totally burned for it.
Milwaukee woke up out of its slumber in the third quarter and things began to spiral for the Bulls. First Chicago started missing shots and the offense began to stagnate, and that’s what started the snowball effect. In the first half, the Bulls were able to match the Bucks offensively and it’s what kept the distance between the two teams. Now with the Bulls going cold on offense, Milwaukee made its run.
The turnovers didn’t help one bit either. Within minutes the Bulls’ big lead was cut all the way down to single digits. Zach LaVine stopped the bleeding for a bit when his 3 kept the Bulls’ lead at 74-67 with 5:31 left in the third. But things quickly went sour as a quick 3 from Khris Middleton and an easy layup for Eric Bledsoe forced Fred Hoiberg to call timeout as the lead was only two. The comeback was finally complete as Milwaukee took a 76-74 lead off a put-back slam by Giannis.
Things continued to get worse as Milwaukee expanded its lead to eight with the Bulls going on a nearly four-minute scoreless streak in the process. It got to as much as 11, and the Bulls continued to have zero answers for the Milwaukee offense. Bledsoe splashed a 3-pointer as time expired, which was a fitting end to what was a disastrous 12 minutes by Chicago. The Bucks outscored them 46-17, and any momentum the Bulls thought they had completely vanished. Despite it only being an 11-point game at 91-80, you got a good sense this one was over.
The Bucks continued to put their foot on the gas, starting the 4th quarter on a 9-2 run. Down 18, the Bulls still continued to fight but just couldn’t find a way to get stops. Things remained that way and you could see the frustration settling in for Chicago. Parker picked up a tech with less than five minutes left as he was asking for a foul call. The lead for Milwaukee finally ballooned to over 20 with a Bledsoe 3. That was with 3:30 left, and it was all but sealed then.
Parker led the way for Chicago with 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting, but he did next to nothing after the first quarter for the second straight game. LaVine, for the second game in a row, didn’t reach his 20-point mark as he only got 15 points on the night, while Antonio Blakeney added 18.
For Milwaukee, they had three starters score 20+ points. Bledsoe led the way with 25 points, while Middleton and Antetokounmpo put up 23 each.
After the last-second win against the Cavaliers last week, the Bulls have now dropped three straight games. Things only get tougher Saturday night as they welcome another Eastern Conference giant in the Toronto Raptors.