The Bulls were feeling good after beating the Wizards on the road in consecutive games, but it was always going to be a tall order to go into Milwaukee and beat the Bucks on the second half of a back-to-back on New Year’s Day. Making it even more difficult was not having Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono (infamous Giannis defender!) available once again, with Billy Donovan revealing before the game that Hutchison had tested positive for COVID-19.
Even given the circumstances, I was hoping the Bulls could at least be competitive in this game, even if I didn’t expect a win. Unfortunately, this one went like the first two games of the season against quality opponents, with the Bulls suffering an ugly 126-96 defeat to ring in 2021.
The Bulls actually scored the first five points of this game, with Otto Porter Jr. picking up where he left off in Washington. Porter would then only make one of his final nine shots after making his first two, and things got uglier as the game progressed. While the Bulls managed to get a 13-point first-quarter deficit down to six by the end of the opening frame, the second quarter turned into a bloodbath and a 62-40 halftime margin in favor of the home team.
The second half was just extended garbage time. The Bulls never got closer than 18 points the rest of the way, with Giannis Antetokounmpo dominating en route to a near-triple-double performance. Rookie Patrick Williams tried his best against the two-time MVP, but to no avail:
Patrick Williams on guarding Giannis: “My chest is on fire from the shoulders he gave me.”— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 2, 2021
The tracking data is in!— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) January 2, 2021
According to https://t.co/qIw6Hycmry, Williams at least partially guarded Giannis for 17.2 possessions last night. 3:34 minutes.
Giannis in those possessions: 12 points (5-9 FG, 1-4 3P), 4 ast, 0 turnovers. Williams also committed 2 shooting fouls on GA https://t.co/A2ggi2n3Zm
The Greek Freak put up 29 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks, and he was a game-high plus-31. Giannis led seven Bucks in double figures as Milwaukee shot a scorching-hot 22-of-45 from 3-point range. Bobby Portis had himself another #REVENGEGAME against the Bulls with 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
There were very few positives for the Bulls in this one. The turnovers returned in a big way, with 21 miscues turning into 24 Bucks points. After Zach LaVine and Coby White enjoyed success against an awful Wizards defense, they were both bad against the much stingier Bucks. They combined for 28 points on 11-of-29 shooting overall and 2-of-9 on 3-pointers while racking up nine turnovers to just five assists. The Bulls had only 18 assists in this game after handing out 34 on New Year’s Eve.
Wendell Carter Jr. did hit his third 3-pointer of the season and reached double figures for the fourth straight game following his dreadful first two games, so there’s that. Denzel Valentine scored the second-most points on the Bulls with 14 on 5-of-8 shooting (2-of-3 from 3) in 21 minutes, but he also did this:
Gotta give Denzel credit for trying pic.twitter.com/FYJXpU884G— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 2, 2021
There’s nothing really else worth saying about this game, but Billy D is hoping his team learns from it:
Billy Donovan: “We needed this. I’m hopeful this game made us better.”— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 2, 2021
As for Hutchison, he has to miss at least 12 days under the NBA’s health and safety protocols for testing positive. Thursday was the first day in the process for Hutch, and he remained back in the nation’s capital. Markkanen, Sato and Arch returned to Chicago as part of their time in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and it’s unclear how long they’ll be out. Markkanen, of course, is also dealing with that calf injury.
The Bulls play the Mavericks on Sunday night. While the Mavs have Luka Doncic, he’s still working himself into shape and they haven’t been nearly as potent as last season so far. Kristaps Porzingis being out hasn’t helped matters, but Doncic has also really struggled with his 3-point shooting (16.1%). Let’s hope the Bulls can actually be competitive and perhaps even pull out a win like they did against Dallas last season.