The Bulls battled hard all game against the Khris Middleton-less Bucks and were right there in the final minutes, but in the end there was too much Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe in a 124-115 victory for Milwaukee.
This was a wild game for both good and bad reasons. Both teams were exceptionally sloppy with the ball, with the Bulls coughing it up 20 times and the Bucks turning it over 22 times. The Bulls poured in a season-high 18 3-pointers compared to a dreadful 6-of-33 showing for the Bucks.
However, the Bucks made up for the 36-point disparity from beyond the arc by attacking the rim ferociously, which resulted in a whopping 70 points in the paint and 47 free-throw attempts (34 makes). The Bucks also dominated the glass (common theme for the Bulls), winning the rebound battle 57-45 and grabbing 16 offensive rebounds in the process.
It was an offensive rebound by Bledsoe that put the nail in the coffin for the Bulls. After fighting back from down 11 points at the end of the third quarter, the Bulls had the deficit at three with just under two minutes to play after a Zach LaVine layup. Giannis missed a mid-range jumper while posted up against Ryan Arcidiacono (this matchup happened repeatedly down the stretch), but Bledsoe soared in and took advantage of the Bulls playing a four-guard lineup (Arcidiacono-White-LaVine-Satoransky-Markkanen) by grabbing the rebound and going back up for a bucket. After a bad LaVine missed 3 on the other end, Bledsoe came roaring back down the floor and scored to make it a seven-point game, effectively ending the Bulls’ comeback bid.
Jim Boylen went to that four-guard lineup partially because Wendell Carter Jr. was again in ticky-tack foul trouble, and he wound up fouling out with about nine minutes left after playing only 21 minutes. Furthermore, Arcidiacono and Coby White both played key roles in the comeback, with Arch doing his hustle thing all over the floor (also hit a key 3-pointer) and White putting up another big scoring game with 26 points (19 in the first half) and six more 3-pointers. White also did some other nice things, racking up five rebounds, three assists and three steals, though he did have one spectacular missed layup in the fourth quarter.
However, it may have behooved the Bulls to go with Thaddeus Young at the 4 down the stretch (even though he was a minus-17 and had some ugly turnovers/misses), or perhaps Boylen could have tried Chandler Hutchison. This whole thing highlights the Bulls’ lack of wing depth, especially with Otto Porter Jr. out right now.
Giannis wound up with a gaudy stat line of 38 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals. On so many occasions he was just able to overpower the Bulls and also use his long arms to get loose balls. The guy is the MVP for a reason.
Meanwhile, Bledsoe added 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting while adding eight assists. His hustle plays helped turn the tide for the Bucks in the third quarter after the Bulls had gone up seven points, with Milwaukee finishing the quarter on a 22-6 run over the last eight or so minutes.
For the Bulls, LaVine had 25 points and seven assists while shooting 8-of-20 from the field and 4-of-9 from 3. While this certainly looks pretty good, more poor shot selection and sloppy turnovers, especially in the second half (4-of-12 shooting), put a damper on his performance. He also was a culprit on the Bledsoe dagger offensive rebound and putback.
Nobody else really stood out for the Bulls in a good way, but Lauri Markkanen again stood out in a bad way. He finished with 11 points on 2-of-9 shooting and 2-of-6 from 3 to go along with eight rebounds, zero assists, three turnovers and five fouls in 32 minutes. He was totally invisible during the Bucks’ big third-quarter run and did nothing in the fourth quarter. He did not score a single point in the second half and missed both his shot attempts.
We’ve said it ad nauseam that it’s not all on Markkanen when he goes quiet. His teammates need to get him the ball and the coaches need to make sure he gets the ball. Still, he has to take responsibility and be more assertive. I know he has this oblique injury, but he can’t be floating around in these games when the Bulls need him. He has to be better, or if he’s really hurting, he shouldn’t be playing. Period.
Overall, the Bulls played hard in this one and never quit even when they could have after the Bucks went on their big run. Still, this game was right there for the taking, and the outcome feels disappointing given just how poorly the Bucks shot from long distance and how well the Bulls shot.
The Bulls now have a day off before hosting Kyrie Irving and the Nets on Saturday. That’s a very winnable game.