This might be the most disappointing defeat of the season thus far. On Wednesday night at the United Center, the Bucks— without both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton—coughed up an 11-point lead in the final three minutes, falling to the Bulls for the second time this season 119-113 in overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo tied a season-high with 45 and set a new one with 22 rebounds, but made several critical mistakes down the stretch that may have ultimately cost his team a win. DeMar DeRozan poured in 42 for Chicago.
After a sluggish start, Chicago turnovers fueled an 11-0 Milwaukee run midway through the first to put them ahead 20-16 at the 4:21 mark. They kept up the heat from there thanks to some welcome success on the break, and briefly went up ten. Spurred by a combined 15 from Bobby Portis and George Hill off the bench, the Bucks led 32-28 after one.
The momentum then swung back towards the home team as DeRozan got in his usual bag of midrange tricks, with the Bulls embarking on an 11-1 run to open the second and jumping up six. Spurred by second-chance points and renewed success in the halfcourt, the Bucks battled back to grab a 52-50 lead with 3:13 remaining until half. However, Chicago snatched it back and headed into the locker room up 57-55.
An 8-0 Bucks run, with heavy doses of Brook Lopez and Giannis at the rim, kicked off the second half as the Bulls got into early foul trouble. Milwaukee was in the bonus after barely three minutes, which meant a long quarter with plenty of free throws. The Bucks didn’t mind the slow pace, though, gritting their way to an 82-79 edge as the final period began.
Giannis came back into the game in attack mode, racking up a quick nine. That staked the Bucks to a brief 14-point advantage, and they’d keep it around double digits until the final five minutes. Clutch triples by Zach LaVine cut it to six on multiple occasions, and a Patrick Williams jumper cut it to four with 48 seconds remaining. Then things got hairy. After an empty Bucks trip, LaVine found DeRozan under the rim for an easy lay-in and 13.8 seconds left to make it 106-104 Bucks. With the shot clock off, Giannis turned the ball over on the inbounds pass, leading to a fastbreak dunk by Ayo Dosunmu to tie the game with 7.8 left. On the ensuing possession, Giannis traveled giving the ball back to Chicago with 1.6 left. Chicago fumbled the inbounds as well, so we headed to OT.
While an early bucket by Giannis and a converted lob by Lopez gave the Bucks hope, Giannis reverted to hero ball from there, clanging far too many off-balance jumpers while DeRozan and co. ran up the score on the other end. Even though Portis managed to tie it in the final minute with a clutch three, Milwaukee was forced to foul and DeRozan sealed it at the line.
With their fourth consecutive loss, the Bucks fall to 22-12 and 3rd in the East, a half-game behind the streaking Nets. At long last, they return home from their forgettable five-game road trip to face the Wolves on Friday.
We have to talk about Giannis. It’s a marvel that someone can annihilate an opponent to the tune of 45/22/7, almost single-handedly winning the game, then dash those hopes of winning with multiple errors with the game on the line. I suppose that’s basketball for you. Anyway, I mentioned the two key turnovers that sent the game into overtime, but in the extra frame, he basically shot the Bucks out of it by going 1/8 from the field. These were nearly all isolation possessions where Chicago showed him lots of bodies and forced him into contested stepbacks and pullups from the 12–18 foot range, an area where Giannis swished a couple earlier but mostly struggled, unlike on Christmas. Giannis ultimately needs to find his teammates for cleaner looks when he’s stymied by triple teams as he drives because even if other Bucks struggling to find the net, he’s just not proficient enough right now to rely on his jumper in such situations. Even if you ignore the jumpers, Nikola Vucevic blocked two of his shots underneath as the Bulls made their move in OT. None of this takes away from how dominant he was in his first 36 minutes. Mitchell sums it up nicely:
Lots of people in my mentions who want to take the blame off of Giannis. And I get it, really.— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) December 29, 2022
But Giannis deserves criticism when he falls short of *his own standards* just like anyone else. His box score is amazing; he made bad decisions that lost the game. Both are true!
Like nearly every Buck, Grayson Allen had a tough time shooting. Everyone’s favorite punching bag finished 4/16 with 13 points, including 3/14 from three-point land. It’s obviously a rough performance, but after many complained that he wasn’t shooting enough recently... well, he did. Now those same voices are complaining about the misses because of course they are. These folks likely would still hate Allen if he solved world hunger, though, so you can’t please everyone. I’m glad he’s getting up shots, though. He’s one of the few threats the Bucks currently have from deep and someone opponents respect, providing important floor spacing. His two fourth-quarter makes were big ones, each putting Milwaukee up 11 after Chicago cut it to single digits. He missed two chances to put the game more out of reach with just over a minute left, but without his efforts, the Bulls may well have already led by then.
Bobby Portis buoyed the Bucks through key stretches as Giannis sat. His three even found the bottom of the net (3/7) more often than it has this season, including the aforementioned final trey in OT that briefly tied the game. Though he missed a few, Portis’ jumper generally looks pretty good in that long midrange as it has for much of this season. He accrued another double-double with 20 and 11 too.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Wesley Matthews and Portis were first off the bench last night. Hill—in his first action since December 17—and Joe Ingles soon followed.
- Milwaukee feasted on the glass all evening, especially off their own (many) misses. They outrebounded Chicago 61-52, including a whopping 22 offensive boards to their opponent’s nine. The result in terms of second-chance points was 23-9 in the Bucks’ favor.
- Hill looked particularly spry after his absence, throwing down a fastbreak dunk (his second dunk on the season) and picking up an and-one on his way to 8 points, all in the first half. With the Bucks getting next to nothing from Pat Connaughton (0/3 in 21 minutes) and Jevon Carter (2/3 in 25), he played the entire OT period as well. Like the other four Bucks on the floor, he barely touched the rock during those five minutes as it stuck to Giannis.
- Giannis picked up another ten-second violation early in the third. I don’t think it actually took ten seconds. I had him at 7 or 8 using my rudimentary (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, etc.) timing during many of his attempts.
- After sitting out for most of the Christmas matchup, MarJon Beauchamp entered early in the second quarter and immediately found himself on DeRozan. As expected, he too had no answers for DDR’s trademark shotmaking. Andre Drummond stuffed him pretty good on a putback attempt soon after. Matthews then switched back onto DeRozan with slightly more success. Allen also did a solid job for stretches on DeRozan.
- Nearly another Grayson Allen incident at United Center as at the 6:55 mark of the third, Patrick Williams pushed Allen into DeRozan. The Bulls star took exception and had to be separated from the pack as Williams was whistled for the foul. It went to review and was upheld, and Allen sank both free throws amid some of the loudest boos you’ll ever hear.
- Yes, it’s tough to watch the Bucks right now. Yes, they’re lacking key contributions from two stars who provided them the past few seasons. It’s fine to be frustrated. But a four-game losing streak before New Year’s is not grounds to make a rash personnel move, especially when the roster is still not fully healthy. 48 games remain and the Bucks are on a 53-win pace even with their recent skid. Teams go through tough stretches: last year’s Warriors dropped five in a row from February into March, then seven of eight to close the month. The champs two years ago had a five-game losing streak in February. That team was somewhat similar to this current Bucks squad if you recall.
It’s not time to hit the panic button. Just take a breather.