It was thrilling. Exhilarating. Tense. But the result was the same, and the Milwaukee Bucks are on the brink.
A wild Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls needed double overtime on Thursday night in Milwaukee. And with two shots to win it falling short, you wondered if the energy and belief would waver for the young Bucks. At the 54th minute, it did, in stunning fashion. And in the end, the Chicago Bulls won it 113-106 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and the Bucks are down 0-3 in their first round series with their I-94 foes.
A back-and-forth first quarter saw the Bucks find an offensive flow they hadn't managed since the first quarter of Game 1. Milwaukee forced five Bulls turnovers and had two separate 7-0 runs. Three nights after registering a season low thirteen assists, the Bucks dished it out six times in the first twelve minutes alone. Giannis Antetokounmpo had nine points, and the two were tied at 27 after one.
Speaking of Giannis! Boy, did he come to life to start the second quarter, grabbing six of the team's first nine points en route to a seven-point lead three minutes into the quarter. The Bucks continued to ratchet up the pressure with stifling defense, turnovers and transition. Jared Dudley took the reins after that, piping in 10 and helping the Bucks to, at one point, an eighteen-point advantage.
But the wheels fell off. Ball movement disappeared, defense waned, and Chicago went on an 18-2 run to cut the lead to two with under a minute to play. An Antetokounmpo jumper made it 53-49 at the half. Giannis finished the first half with 17 points, besting his previous career high against Chicago in just 21 minutes.
The third quarter saw the lack of turnovers hamper the Bucks. After forcing nine in the first half, the aggressive defense faded in the second, and the Bulls used an 11-2 run to jump out to a 74-67 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. Mike Dunleavy hit three triples in the frame as the Bulls continued their series-long advantage beyond the arc, and Milwaukee trailed 74-71 heading to the fourth.
The start of the final quarter saw the bench group that was so good in the second quarter revert to their old ways, causing the offense to stall. Derrick Rose continued his barrage of three-pointers in the series, leading Chicago to an eleven-point bulge halfway through the fourth.
But the Bucks stormed back in the final minutes, an 11-0 run thanks to Khris Middleton with a pair of threes and a running floater to give Milwaukee a 95-94 lead with 10 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, Derrick Rose drove to the basket and was fouled by John Henson. Rose hit one of two from the line, and Middleton missed a game-winning three at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
Each team traded buckets in the first overtime that ended tied at 101-101. O.J. Mayo missed a contested 18-footer at the buzzer to send it to another five minutes.
Double overtime was an unmitigated horror show, a startling change in performance from a team that flashed some brilliance early and some hard-nosed effort late. Four turnovers, four scoreless minutes, a 12-0 Bulls run, and the end of the season is staring the Bucks in the face.
We finally got the #PlayoffGiannis we were hoping for, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. John Henson was incredible, 15 points, 14 boards and three blocks. Khris Middleton lugged the team on his back with the sharpshooting ease we saw all season. And above all... this game was a BLAST. An all-timer of a playoff game.
But a colossal heartbreaker for this young team. A game that saw the Bucks look like the fun, smooth, efficient team from January turn into the stale, awkward, inefficient team from March. Then those last two minutes of regulation... amazing. One last gasp at saving the season paid off, and nearly carried this team to victory. But the lungs emptied late... and violently.
Derrick Rose was deadly for the second time in this series with 34 points and 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. The Bulls were 14-of-33 from downtown, which will be the biggest number to look back on when this series comes to its end.
The Bucks will have to regroup, reset, re-focus and play even better to make sure that doesn't happen on Saturday.