The Bulls were hoping to roll into 2020 with an upset win over the mighty Bucks, but Giannis and company showed why they have the best record in the NBA in a 123-102 shellacking. The Bulls managed to keep it close for a half, only for the Bucks to flex their muscles with a 40-point third quarter to turn the final frame into extended garbage time.
It looked like the Bulls may get run off the court from the very start, going down 8-0 from the opening tip and falling behind by 11 after the first quarter thanks to some ugly shooting. The Bucks went up by as many as 13 points in the second quarter before the Bulls caught fire from 3-land, with Coby White going on a personal 9-0 run to get them back into it.
It wasn’t only White who was draining triples, as Lauri Markkanen made all of his 3-point attempts in the second quarter as he battled through an illness. The Bulls shot 8-of-13 from distance as a team in the frame, while the Bucks shot a woeful 0-of-8. The Bulls even took a one-point lead late in the half, but the Bucks scored the final four points to make it 55-52 going into the break. While the Bulls outscored the Bucks by 27 points on 3-pointers in the first half, Milwaukee held that slight lead thanks to a 12-0 advantage on free throws (the Bulls didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half) and a 20-of-31 shooting mark on 2-pointers.
Unfortunately, the third quarter was a bloodbath.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, back after missing two games with a back injury, set the tone with two beautiful dimes right out of the gate. The Bucks promptly started the third quarter on a 17-4 run, slicing and dicing the Bulls’ defense and gumming up their offense by simply not guarding Kris Dunn on the perimeter, even when he had the ball in his hands:
Stacey picking out how the Bucks are packing the lane with Dunn in the game pic.twitter.com/D4EDrAGdtZ— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 31, 2019
Dunn failed to make the Bucks pay all game, scoring just four points on 1-of-6 shooting while missing both of his 3-point attempts badly. The Bulls were outscored by 21 points in Dunn’s 19 minutes, and he didn’t play the rest of the night after Boylen pulled him in favor of Ryan Arcidiacono with 7:19 remaining in the game and the Bucks up 16 points.
The Bulls made one final surge to cut their deficit to 10 points with just over three minutes to go in the third quarter, but the Bucks just kept on scoring and some real ugly misses by Thaddeus Young hurt momentum. The Bucks shot 64.1% from the field in the second half and 10-of-18 on 3-pointers after making just 1-of-14 from deep in the first half.
The Bulls did make 17 of their 44 3-point attempts on the night, but they couldn’t get anything going inside against the best defensive team in the league. The Bulls shot just 36.5% on 2-pointers as the Bucks’ stout rim protection (10 blocks) made shots around the basket difficult. The home team, and especially Zach LaVine, probably could have gotten a friendlier whistle (Bulls shot 5-of-8 from the charity stripe), but the Bucks did what they do down low. And after outworking Milwaukee on the boards early, the Bulls wound up getting outrebounded 59-43.
LaVine was noticeably frustrated for much of the night, scoring 19 points on 7-of-23 shooting as he failed to get any calls on his drives to the basket. Markkanen and White both added 18 points apiece, but they were both quiet in the second half. Markkanen only took two shots in the second half after a 14-point first half, which is unacceptable given the Bulls’ offensive struggles.
Wendell Carter Jr. and Tomas Satoransky were the only other two Bulls in double figures with 10 points apiece. It was at least nice to see Carter shoot two more 3-pointers (though he missed both) and knock down a couple of mid-range jumpers. Baby steps when it comes to him taking jumpers.
As for the Bucks, Khris Middleton cruised to a 25-point night to lead the way in scoring. Giannis stuffed the stat sheet as always with 23/10/6 and a handful of monster slams in 27 minutes, though Pat Connaughton had the highlight of the night with a left-handed putback slam:
┏━━┓┏━━┓┏━━┓┏━━┓— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 31, 2019
Let Pat Dunk
Eric Bledsoe returned from a leg injury to score 15 points in 16 minutes while also providing a ton of defensive energy, and the Bucks outscored the Bulls by 26 points in those limited minutes. Old friends Robin Lopez and Kyle Korver had their moments as well, with RoLo doing his dipsy-dos in the paint while also packing four shots.
The Bulls finish up December with a 7-7 record for the month and a 13-21 record on the season. They’re actually still just 1.5 games out of the No. 8 seed because the Magic somehow blew an 18-point lead at home to the Trae Young-less Hawks, which is a truly appalling loss.
The Bulls get New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off before returning to action at home against the Jazz on Thursday. Happy New Year, Blog a Bull!