The Bulls have been struggling to find ways to win, but luckily for them the Bucks keep finding ways to lose.
Three days after falling to the Bucks in ugly fashion at home, the Bulls returned the favor in Milwaukee--but just barely. Despite the best efforts of Joakim Noah (21 points, 18 rebounds) and company to punish Milwaukee down low, the Bucks' energy and shot-making (no, really) saw them lead by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter before once again unraveling late. And this time it was a familiar face who delivered the final death blow, as Mike Dunleavy banked home a catch-and-shoot triple from the top of the key to give Chicago their only lead of the second half with just 5.8 seconds left.
It was a cruel blow for a more energetic Bucks team inspired by John Henson in the first half (15 pts, 8 rebs, 4 blk) and Gary Neal (17 pts, 5/9 shots) and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second (8 pts, 9 rebs), so I suppose now is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the big picture. Steve, take it away:
Sometimes good medicine tastes bad. #HarikariForJabari #FlyOffTheHandleForRandle #NeverFlexEmForExum #KeepDigginForWiggins #ShartForSmart— Steven von Horn (@StevevonHorn) December 14, 2013
A raucous Bulls contingent only made the medicine taste worse tonight, as the usual "United Center North" atmosphere provided some additional edge to a game that got increasingly chippy as the night wore on. And while Noah's dominant all-around effort was the major storyline for Chicago, the Bulls moved the ball exceptionally well throughout (26 assists) and and got a serious shot in the arm from Jimmy Butler, who returned from a four-week absence with 16 points on 12 shots. Butler's work off the bounce likely helped ease the painful memories of the Kirk Hinrich/Marquis Teague horror show from Tuesday, though Hinrich also did his part with 13 points and 8 assists.
Trailing 26-16 late in the first, the Bucks rallied early in the second behind eight quick points from Neal and some infectious energy from (who else?) Giannis Antetokounmpo. Without scoring a point, Giannis gave the Bucks some additional edge defensively and led the fast break that saw Neal bury his first three-pointer. Hinrich answered with a air of triples to draw the Bulls to within 48-47 with just a second left in the half, but a foolish Hinrich foul on a Brandon Knight three attempt restored the Bucks lead to 51-47 at intermission.
Knight and O.J. Mayo each stroked a pair of jumpers in the opening minutes of the second as the Bucks started brightly and led 61-51, but Chicago stayed close thank to Noah's inspirational efforts on both ends. After his scoreless first half, Antetokounmpo got on the board with a pretty putback slam late in the third before taking a handoff and impressively slamming past two defenders in the early in the fourth. He finally gave way to Khris Middleton inside four minutes, and it was Middleton who gave the Bucks a 90-88 lead with 29 seconds remaining on an improbable shot clock-beating lefty floater.
Mayo then gamely defended Butler on the ensuing possession, forcing a travel call as Butler fell trying to lean in on him. That could have been Chicago's last real chance, but the Bucks wasted an opportunity to ice it when Noah tied up Neal for a jump-ball only seconds later. Dunleavy then came around a screen at the top of the key to bank home a well-defended three with just under six seconds left, and Mayo had his running shot partially blocked as time expired.
- Henson rebounded from a forgettable night against the Spurs with a solid all-around game against Noah, though he and the rest of the Bucks will be less than thrilled with the 17 offensive boards they conceded the Bulls. Henson got it going early with three quick buckets around the hoop and had a dozen by halftime, but the Bucks struggled to find him in good spots in the second half and he converted just 1/3 after the intermission. It was a similar story on the defensive end, where Henson swatted three shots in the first half but seemed to be outnumbered on the boards for much of the second half.
- Coming off a career night against the Spurs, Giannis scored all eight of his points in a 14 minute stretch in the second half. a putback slam, a sweet driving one-hand dunk off a handoff, and two perfect trips from the line. He had a similar impact on the defensive end with a career-high nine rebounds, and he also seemed determined to make up for getting beaten by Dunleavy a couple on Tuesday by faceguarding him impressively on a number of occasions.
- The Bucks just seemed a step late on their rotations much of the night, as the Bulls flashed some terrific interior passing on their way to 26 dimes.