Back in Game 1, the Bulls played their ass off but their stars couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat.
But while that felt like the Bulls’ single chance of stealing a game in this series, they put forth the effort again to keep themselves in the game, and this time their best players came through, winning a game in Milwaukee and sending this series back to Chicago tied at 1-1.
And my how the turn tables...
Not only did the Bulls win, but Bucks star Khris Middleton suffered a sprained MCL and likely will miss time. Milwaukee would still be the favorite, but that injury plus this Game 2 Bulls win gives Chicago an opening in this series.
Before we get ahead of ourselves there, let’s look at some takeaways from this game:
DeMar DeRozan was right
After the Bulls’ Big Three shot 21-of-71 in Game 1, DeRozan said there was “no way in hell” that would happen again. Well, he was right: DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine combined for 85 points on 33-of-62 shooting overall and 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
DeRozan himself put on a tour de force performance, going for a playoff career-high 41 points on 16-of-31 from the field. The veteran hit a number of clutch shots after not looking all that great to start the game. And after that 6-of-25 showing in Game 1, he shot 9-of-18 from mid-range in Game 2 and went 7-of-11 in the paint.
The Bucks had nothing for DeRozan, even while trying to put Giannis Antetokounmpo on the assignment. DeMar saw Giannis and went 8 for 9 with 16 points with Giannis as his primary defender.
Meanwhile, Nikola Vucevic played one of his best games as a Bull and certainly his most significant performance: 24 points, 13 rebounds, two assists with his lineups racking up a plus-13. After showing good process but awful results in game one, Vooch looked due for a good night. Plenty of people questioned whether Vooch should keep launching so many 3s after struggling so much in Game 1 (2-of-10) and this season in general, but this game showed why he needs to just keep shooting when he’s given the opportunities. Vooch went 4-of-8 from 3-point land and knocked down a big one in crunch time, putting the Bulls up eight with two and a half minutes left.
LaVine had a solid first half only to be largely invisible in the second, but he scored an efficient 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including a huge 3-pointer in the fourth quarter as the Bulls held off the furious Bucks charge. The Bulls will need more from him at some point if they want to pull off an upset, but he still doesn’t look quite right with the knee injury.
Early-season Alex Caruso is back, and it made all the difference in the world in this game. Caruso stuffed the stat sheet by going for nine points, 10 assists, two steals and two blocks. Notably, Caruso actually knocked down a trio of 3-pointers after struggling so much down the stretch of the season. He did miss some great looks when things got tight in this game, but him hitting anything at all was a bonus.
And, of course, he was a game-best plus-16 after so many hustle plays and a massive defensive impact. He drew charges, he took on the Giannis assignment at times (and did pretty well), he did everything.
Alex Caruso's defense in Game 2 was *chefs kiss* pic.twitter.com/xtS0hlcpCt— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) April 21, 2022
One Caruso sequence in the fourth quarter was especially notable. He came over to help on Brook Lopez and blocked him, then found LaVine for his clutch 3-pointer:
Huge corner 3 from LaVine pic.twitter.com/kzVm1P4tf8— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) April 21, 2022
Then, there was this play on one of the final possessions of the game, and the very biggest one for Chicago. With the Bulls clinging on for dear life, Caruso’s offensive rebound of a DeRozan miss created an important extra opportunity:
DEAR GOD WHAT A SEQUENCE pic.twitter.com/v73aE9eUvu— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) April 21, 2022
Caruso’s manic energy helps this Bulls defense thrive, and they’ve been great through two games so far in this series. They forced 15 more turnovers and had the Bucks struggling from the opening tip.
Pat did stuff!
Patrick Williams had a quiet Game 1, but he stepped up to the challenge in Game 2 after talking a somewhat big game ahead of it.
Pat didn’t exactly slow down Giannis, who went for 33/18/9 and got to the foul line 16 times. But the youngster did block The Greek Freak once and actually made his offensive presence felt in this one, going for 10 points (5-of-9 shooting), nine rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal in 32 minutes.
Williams’ defense and rebounding were helpful, but he also scored two huge baskets in the third quarter as the Bucks were threatening to get back in the game. He knocked down a tough mid-range jumper and then had this beauty off the dribble against Brook Lopez:
Paw finding his rhythm pic.twitter.com/MCBp2f9req— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) April 21, 2022
Yes, the Bucks made a big push after this and got the game close, but these Williams buckets helped stem the tide momentarily and showed growth from the young forward. Pat doesn’t need to take a lot of shots to have an impact, but if he can make the most of his opportunities on offense while defending and rebounding, that’s a huge win. The three assists were a plus as well as he made some nice reads leading to hoops.
Response after response after response
Time after time in this game, I expected the Bucks to come out and take it to the Bulls. Instead, it was the Bulls who hit the ground running at the tip with a 9-0 run to start the game.
Then they would answer every single time when the Bucks went on a run: They responded when the Bucks got right back in the game in the first quarter. They dominated the second quarter. There were those Pat plays near the end of the third quarter, only to see Giannis totally took over the game to get the Bucks within three, followed by the Bulls responding again with a 6-2 run to close the frame. The 4th saw DeRozan and Vooch push that lead back out to 16 just over two minutes in, but then Bucks then kept coming and coming, and while it wasn’t always pretty in the clutch, the Bulls did just enough to hold on.
We’ve seen the Bulls fold so many times when the going gets tough, but they never fully did in this game in the face of onslaughts from arguably the best player in the NBA (with the officiating on his side, to boot).
Both benches did nothing
The Bulls got very little from their bench with just 10 points. The single Game One bench contributor Coby White was awful with five points on 1-of-5 shooting and two turnovers in 10 minutes, and Billy Donovan couldn’t really trust anybody else. He tried going small with Derrick Jones Jr. against Giannis at the 5, and while it was okay for the first stint, it was disastrous in the third quarter. Donovan did turn to Tristan Thompson when Vooch got in foul trouble in the fourth quarter (phantom fouls, to be honest), and TT did make a few nice plays right after checking in. But those good vibes didn’t last long and Donovan quickly went back to Vooch after a mini Bucks surge.
DeRozan and LaVine played the entire fourth quarter.— Mark K (@mkhoops) April 21, 2022
Vooch played 10.5 minutes, despite playing with 5 fouls.
Caruso went 10.5 minutes.
Donovan really leaned on his best four guys, and every single one of them delivered.
Luckily for the Bulls, the Bucks’ bench stunk too. They managed just eight points, with Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton combining for just 2-of-10 shooting and 1-of-8 from 3-point land. Bobby Portis was limited to six minutes after getting elbowed in the face by Thompson, resulting in an eye injury. We’ll see what his status is moving forward.
Can the Bulls really do this?
I’m not going to come out and say the Bulls should be favored in this series now that they have home-court advantage and Middleton is hurt. The Bucks still have the best player in this series and the better team, even without Middleton and perhaps even Portis.
But using these two games in Milwaukee as evidence, the Bulls have outplayed the Bucks. At the very least, the Bulls look like a totally different team from the end of the season, instead looking like one resembling the team that stole our hearts (and the ball, a lot) to start this regular season. And while it sure would be great to have Lonzo Ball to fully recapture that early-season magic, injuries are part of the game which now the Bucks will have to deal with themselves.
Folks, we might just have ourselves a series.