Heading into another National TV appearance on a losing streak, the pressure was on the Chicago Bulls to put up a good effort let alone win. And they did the former, just not the latter, resulting in a 118-112 loss for the Bulls.
It’s now Chicago’s fourth straight loss, plus with this win for the Bucks, they own the tiebreaker when it comes to playoff seeding.
The game was even closer than the final score indicates as the Bulls did put forth a competitive effort. After being down by as much as 14 in the second quarters Chicago came roaring back in the third (the Bucks are the league’s worst 3rd quarter defense), outscoring Milwaukee 35-24 and having the United Center rocking. It was like the old (pre Caruso and Ball injury) Bulls: flying up and down the court, causing havoc on one end and scoring with ease on the other.
The two teams traded leads back and forth deep into crunch time. Then, Milwaukee’s stars stepped up. Jrue Holiday knocked down timely jumpers and grabbed soul crushing offensive rebounds. He had 14 points in the fourth quarter alone has he kept answering each time the Bulls grabbed any sort of momentum late. Giannis Antetokounmpo hit two key free throws after struggling from the line all night (he missed nine FTs this game).
Chicago’s crunch time offense once again, struggled going scoreless for two minutes after the 2:51 mark.
The Bulls still had a chance late after Zach LaVine drilled a three, but the Bucks easily beat the press as the Bulls let Jevon Carter get by the defense and he scored an easy layup after a full-court pass. Things got even more interesting when initially a foul was called on Khris Middleton as LaVine was shooting from three, but replay showed no contact and the Bucks won the challenge and then the subsequent jump ball.
Overall, it was another game where the offense was fine. They shot 50 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from deep. Chicago struggled a bit initially when it came to hanging onto the ball but got better as the game went along, finishing with 12 turnovers which resulted in 18 Bucks points.
Zach LaVine led the way for Chicago with a stellar performance of 30 points, six assists, and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting. He had an early defensive gaffe where he leaked out after a defensive possession and forgot to rebound the ball, leading to a Milwaukee basket. But his offense was great, Zach got the basket and was moving smoothly, knocking down jumpers off the dribble, and even finished a sick alley-oop dunk from Ayo Dosunmu.
DeMar DeRozan finished with 29 points and five assists, and like against Atlanta he struggled in the first quarter (1-8 from the field), but picked things up. Nikola Vucevic nearly had a double double with 19 points and nine rebounds while shooting eight of 13. Dosunmu stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds. Although the box score doesn’t reflect it, he played really good defense on guys like Middleton and Holiday. It was his play on that end of the court, which sparked Chicago’s big surge in the third quarter.
The big story in terms of Bulls lineups was Tristan Thompson. Eyebrows were raised when it was announced Tristan Thompson would start over Javonte Green at the power forward spot, playing Vucevic and him together like against Atlanta in crunch time. It didn’t work then, and went even worse in this one. Thompson finished with four points and three rebounds in 20 minutes of action, but in those minutes the Bulls were -25. I know +/- is a bit of a wonky stat when it comes to a player in an individual game but still. The Bulls were in a unique matchup facing Giannis with no viable options, but going forward it will be interesting to see if Donovan continues to put in Thompson in crunch time against teams with bigger size or if he goes back to playing a smaller closing lineup.
As for the rest of the squad, Javonte Green had nine points off the bench and three rebounds and also did his best to slow down Giannis. Coby White struggled, making only one of his four attempts to finish with three points, two assists, and four rebounds. Troy Brown Jr. played just eight minutes, finish with five points including one three.
Derrick Jones Jr. played 16 minutes with just 5 points and 4 rebounds, but they were eventful. Not just the incredible dunk on Giannis, but he was involved in a baseline collision with Grayson Allen (who was boo’d every time he touched the ball), and received a flagrant one foul. Then minutes later, he finished off a nice pass from Ayo by dunking on Antetokounmpo who tried to stop him at the rim.
For the Bucks, their big three all finished with 20 points or more, led by the 34 of Antetokounmpo (who had a double double with 16 rebounds). Holiday ended up with 26 points and eight rebounds with four of them coming on the offensive end. Middleton finished with 22 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.
This is another loss against a top team in the East and it’s a stark reminder of just how far the Bulls are from the top. Although the standings indicate they are in the top five, their record against the best teams speaks for itself. Yes, Caruso and Lonzo coming back will help and we’ve seen just how good a healthy team can be. It still remains to be seen if this team can compete or not and we won’t get a definite answer until the postseason. But as of now, the Bulls still are in the second tier of contention for the East title.
Yes, moral victories won't count in the standings, but hopefully it’s an effort they can build on moving forward. Things don’t get any easier as there is another marquee matchup coming up: the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to play James Harden and Joel Embiid on Monday.