Bulls 93, Bucks 86 | Brandon Jennings' ankle injury punctuates tough loss for Milwaukee

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The Milwaukee Bucks dropped their ninth-straight game against Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Carlos Boozer and the Bulls grabbed 20 offensive rebounds to offset their poor shooting, while Brandon Jennings played well until he injured his ankle in crunch time.

The Milwaukee Bucks still can't find a way to beat Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls looked vulnerable on Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and they shot just 39 percent from the field on the night (including 4-of-16 from three), but the Bucks found a way to lose for the ninth-straight time to Chicago.

Brandon Jennings led the Bucks in points (23), assists (7) steals (5), made threes (1) and just about everything else -- including scary-looking ankle injuries -- but it wasn't enough to offset the advantages the Bulls built up on the offensive glass and at the free throw line. The Bucks' starting point guard wanted the chance to bring his team back from an 89-85 deficit in the final minutes, but with 23.1 seconds remaining in the game he crumpled to the hardwood and winced in pain after turning his ankle on the back end of a drive towards the left baseline.

Here's how the game played out before Jennings was carried off by Gooden and Dalembert in dramatic fashion.

Joel Przybilla replaced Samuel Dalembert in the starting lineup because Sammy apparently arrived late at the arena, and (gulp) I liked the move by Skiles. Ghostface Billa provided a physical presence to help stifle Chicago’s powerful frontcourt, and when the Bulls don’t get easy looks in the paint they generally struggle to score. Dalembert has been awful defending the paint so far this season, so I was interested to see someone else get a run with starters.

Przybilla won’t matchup as well against other teams in the NBA, but for one night I liked the change. If they didn't sign him to play against big teams like the Bulls, why’d they sign him? Going forward, I like the idea of being flexible with the starting center position.

(Interesting note: the Bucks used Prz to initiate high-pick-and-roll, but he literally did nothing except set screens. He never rolled to the hoop. If Jennings or Ellis picked up their dribble, Joel was there to receive a pass and hand-off the ball on a reset of high pick-and-roll).

Things I considered good early signs:

  • Joakim Noah picked up a silly reaching foul on the first play of the game.
  • Brandon Jennings nailed six of his first eight shots, and the best defender the Bulls could matchup up against him was…don’t giggle yet….wait for it….Nate Robinson.
  • Kirk Hinrich couldn’t get the ball up the floor without Jennings picking his pocket
  • Ersan Ilyasova missed his first three-point attempt and Bulls bigs killed him on the glass…wait…where should I even put these observations anymore?

Things I considered dangerous early signs:

  • The Bucks dominated the first five minutes of the game based on the eye test, but in actuality they only built a tenuous 13-9 lead over that span. They led by just two points at the end of the first period despite shooting 60.9 percent from the field, because they allowed the Bulls to reel in eight offensive rebounds on 15 misses.
  • Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer combined to score 32 of Chicago’s 52 first half points. They did it on 12-of-22 shooting, while the rest of the team collectively converted 6-of-21 attempts. Dan Sinclair helped me sort out why Monta Ellis had so much trouble checking Old Man Rip on defense:

Ellis (17 points on 17 shots, two assists) picked up his fourth foul of the game with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter, which is an impressive feat considering he didn't play a lick of defense against Rip Hamilton.

The Bulls don’t run offense. They dry heave offense. It’s an ugly affair when Derrick Rose isn’t around to initiate sets, and everyone on Chicago knows it. The guards typically stumble around for a couple counts and then either dump the ball down low in the waning seconds of the possession or toss up an ugly jumper. In theory, anything is better than a turnover because a missed shot presents a chance to grab an offensive rebound and (hopefully) get a better shot. The Bulls don’t mind doing things by-the-book.

On a related note, Carlos Boozer posted 16 points and 14 rebounds before the fourth quarter even started. The bald-headed big man finished with 22 points, a game-high 19 rebounds, as many offensive rebounds as the entire Bucks team (8) and a huge put back dunk to give the Bulls a decisive 89-85 lead with 23 seconds left in the game. He pushed people around under the rim and didn’t get called for it, so good for him. Larry Sanders didn't much care for his approach. It will be interesting to see how the Tube Men respond in the rematch on Monday night at the United Center.

The Bulls out-rebounded the Bucks 54-40, and they killed Milwaukee on the offensive glass. Chicago shot 4-of-16 from beyond the arc and 39 percent from the field, but they compensated by pulling down 20 of their own misses and hitting 25-of-26 free throw attempts. Chicago scored eight of their final 12 points off of offensive rebounds (this includes the four points from chase-and-foul free throws). That’s called getting the job done.

On a more important related note, let’s not complain about the officials. There is no NBA conspiracy against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s not a coincidence that complaints about officials, in all sports, spew disproportionately from the blowholes of fans of losing teams. It’s easier to mentally process a poor result if you externalize the cause – "my favorite team didn't lose because the other team played better, they lost because the referees made them lose despite their superior effort and execution."

It’s lame and unnecessary. Remember this: the Milwaukee Bucks are not designed to draw a lot of shooting fouls. Their highest-paid and highest-usage players love jumpshots and aren’t blessed with the skills to draw forceful contact on a regular basis. Are people really mad that Jennings, Ellis, Ilyasova and Dunleavy aren't drawing a ton of fouls -- especially against a Thibodeau-coached unit?

My advice: treat the officials as an act of God. Calls can be unpredictable. Sometimes officiating qualifies as a natural disaster. As in life, some teams are better equipped to avoid and/or take advantage of these "acts of God," and others are forced to overcome them. Calls will never be perfectly even for both sides. Robot refs aren't walking through that door. Hopefully a more focused Bucks team is…

Three Bucks

Brandon Jennings (23 points, 10-20 FGs, 7 assists, 5 steals). He played a really solid game. Hopefully he can bounce back on Monday.

Larry Sanders (8 points, 4-9 FGs, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, 2 steals). He made life very difficult for the Bulls in the paint -- Chicago shot 18-for-36 in that zone on the night -- but he also played a role in giving up a ton of offensive rebounds. He also fouled out.

Tobias Harris (10 points, 5-7 FGs, 3 rebounds). I'm not sure he belongs here, but someone else had to make the cut.

Three Numbers

3. The Bulls came into the contest amid their first three-game losing streak during the entire head coaching tenure of Tom Thibodeau. Something tells me they won't have to worry about pushing that mark to four consecutive losses for quite a while.

3-17. That's what the Bucks shot from three-point range. I'm certain that 17.6 percent shooting from deep won't do the job for this team. Jennings (1-5), Dunleavy (1-4) and Udrih (1-4) each hit one triple on the night, but they all shot poorly from that range.

745. The Bulls went 745 days between sporting sub-.500 records. On Nov. 7, 2010 they dipped below that mark, and then avoided the same fate until they lost to the Rockets three nights ago (Nov. 21). With this win over the Bucks, they are back at equilibrium.

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