Your Chicago Bulls are coming home for their first playoff action in the United Center in five years. And they arrive with their first-round “I-94 series” matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks astonishingly tied, 1-1, in a series that could easily have been 2-0 Bulls had Chicago not shot a paltry 32.3% from the field in Game 1 on Sunday.
The Bucks drew first blood, barely winning 93-86 Sunday, but they looked shaken by Chicago’s incredibly effective and engaged defense, and outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, struggled to get much cooking on offense themselves. They shot just 40.5% from the floor.
On Wednesday, Chicago put forth the same stellar defensive effort, and this time their shots fell. They beat the Bucks 114-110, though they led by as much as 18 points during this road bout. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic were the scoring stars (Zach LaVine was no slouch himself), while Alex Caruso led the way on defense and Patrick Williams stepped up to remain an enticing two-way player.
Perhaps the Bucks enjoyed a better “Shot Quality Score” in Game 2, but DeMar DeRozan has built a career off of making impossible shots, and he certainly proved that on Wednesday night in pouring in his first-ever 40+ point playoff performance, going 16-of-31 from the field, including his signature array of tough makes both inside the paint and around the elbows.
After Khris Middleton suffered an MCL sprain that will apparently keep him out for the rest of the series, the Bucks’ edge in healthy contributing personnel has vanished. Chicago is missing its third or fourth best player in Lonzo Ball, while Milwaukee is now without its second All-Star in Middleton, plus its backup point guard in the Ghost of George Hill. The Bucks were always fairly shallow, and now it looks even worse for them with Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen’s shooting woes. And Jevon Carter has not been able to contribute much in Hill’s stead, at least on offense.
Bobby Portis also suffered an injury in Game 2, a right eye abrasion courtesy of a (probably?) inadvertent Tristan Thompson. But Portis is not listed on the Bucks’ injury report today, suggesting that he will at least give it a go tonight.
Chicago really could beat the defending world champs now, thanks to the Middleton injury and Milwaukee’s middling play and underwhelming depth.
They’ll need more big games out of DeRozan and Vucevic and at least continued efficiency from Zach, to outscore the Bucks. Just as importantly, they’ll need the swarming defense of Alex Caruso (who looks fully back after playing hurt down the home stretch of the regular season) plus the solid efforts on that end of the floor from their big three. Williams needs to continue to look to score inside and trust that his athleticism can bug the Bucks. The Bulls need to win at least one game in this two-game United Center home stand. Will that happen tonight?
Here’s a fun X-factor ahead of tonight’s action: bench players historically perform much better at home. Considering that, among the Chicago reserves, only Coby White has had a single double-digit scoring night (he scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting in Game 1), it does feel that someone is due for a breakout night on offense. My money’s on Javonte Green.
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago and ABC.
Odds: The Bulls have seen a massive shift in their Vegas odds. The Bucks, who had been 10-point favorites in Game 2, are now just 2.5-point favorites. The over/under for the cumulative game score is 222.5 total points.
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