After an embarrassing second half performance the last time they faced the Milwaukee Bucks in their new arena, the Bulls gave no reason to set lofty expectations in the second matchup against their divisional rivals. Somehow, though, this game wasn’t anything like the last.
Producing a full four quarter performance and putting themselves in a position to steal a game on the road, the Bulls narrowly dropped an entertaining game to the Bucks, losing 116-113.
Here are the takeaways.
Some redemption for LaVine
LaVine faced criticism after settling for a contested three-point attempt to close the game against the Spurs on Monday, finding little fault in his own shot selection in a clutch moment.
With the game unexpectedly close in the final minute of play, LaVine would again have his chance to make a play with the game on the line.
On an out of bounds play after a timeout, coach Fred Hoiberg drew up a great set piece which created an empty lane toward the rim. This time, however, LaVine made the right decision, instead of stepping back, he drove all the way to the rim and finishing a nice left-handed reverse layup to tie the game at 113.
With so few credible offensive players by his side, it’s understandable why LaVine trusts his own skills in isolation more so than passing off to a teammate. Though at times justifiable, if he’s to remain a high-usage lead guard, LaVine’s shot selection and creativity as a passer must improve.
To that last point LaVine was even better in this decisive attack on the basket that resulted in an easy dunk for Jabari Parker.
Splitting the double-team and entering the paint, LaVine made the right read, going strong to the basket and forcing the entire Bucks defense to zero in on the drive. Finding Parker on the cut with a nice wrap around pass was arguably his most impressive all season, and showcased that he does have the ability to be an effective late game closer should he choose to make the right play.
Rebounding continues to be an issue
One possession can dictate the result of the game. For the Bulls, failing to secure the rebound in the dying moments ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
After a strong collective defensive effort forced Bucks center Brook Lopez into a tough driving attempt against his twin brother Robin, all the Bulls needed to do was grab the rebound. They couldn’t, losing a hustle battle to Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, who swooped on the rebounding scrum and tapped a loose ball out to Malcolm Brogdon, who dished to Khris Middleton for a clean, open three-point look.
Over the course of the game the Bulls defensive rebounding held up, allowing only 18% of available offensive rebounds to the Bucks. But due to missed rotations or erroneous lineups, they’re 23rd in the league in this mark for the season, and it’s not the first time a game has slipped due to a critical failure in this department.
The Final Possession
Despite allowing the Bucks to secure an offensive rebound that led to the go-ahead basket, the Bulls had an opportunity to tie the game on the final possession.
Drawing up another fantastic after timeout play, Hoiberg and the Bulls executed perfectly, running Justin Holiday off a series of screens from LaVine and Lopez to find a great look from distance. Unfortunately for the Bulls, though they needed the shot to go down, it wasn’t to be.
Considering the context of the game, down three on the road against one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference, this about as good a look you could hope to create. More importantly — unlike the Spurs game — the Bulls’ final shot attempt didn’t come in isolation.
While it’s not always possible to avoid ball-dominant final possessions, a play design like this goes to show it’s possible to execute a set piece to generate a great shot. The Bulls need to do more of this, and not be so quick to clear out and hand the ball to LaVine and hope he can create a shot as the defense loads up on him.
- If this game is any indication, we won’t be seeing much of Antonio Blakeney going forward. Chandler Hutchison returning from injury has been the impetus for this decision, but Hoiberg also experimented with small lineups that featured Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne in the backcourt, with LaVine and Holiday at both forward positions. It was an interesting look worth exploring, and result was less of Blakeney. Hard to complain about that.
- Speaking of Hutchison, there’s a lot to like for what he can potentially be, but right now isn’t ready to play heavy minutes. Aside from a thunderous transition dunk (his only made basket), Hutchison was a negative on offense and did little else to justify Hoiberg giving him more than 16 minutes while leaning on Holiday for 40 minutes. The book isn’t written on Hutchison, but as a four-year collegiate player wasn’t he meant to be more ready-made than this?
- In his last five games, Wendell Carter Jr. has picked up five or more fouls. That’s an unprecedentedly high rate. Sure, some calls have inappropriately gone against him, but at this point the No. 7 pick is in his own head, picking up soft, unnecessary body fouls. He’ll learn from this but, man, for all our sake, please stop fouling so we can watch you hoop.
- Carter watching on from the sideline gave extended minutes to reserve center Robin Lopez. For large parts of the season, that would have been problematic. That wasn’t the case here. The Bulls lose this game by double digits without Lopez hurling in his patented waistline hook shots. Scoring 17 points off the bench, not only did Lopez give the Bulls bench an offensive punch it desperately needed, he bested his brother Brook, who could only manage 12 points (4-of-15 shooting). The Bulls may have lost, but in some ways, both Lopez brothers got themselves a win.
- Up next: A four-game road trip continues in Detroit on Friday.