In their just their second matchup on the season, the Bucks dispatched their neighbors to the south on Friday night at the United Center, topping the Bulls in a 118-112 final. With a second W over Chicago, Milwaukee surpassed their division rivals in the standings by virtue of a tie-breaker. Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 34 on 12/22 shooting, but the story down the stretch was Jrue Holiday’s 16 fourth-quarter points, part of a sterling 26-point effort on 10/20 shooting. Zach LaVine led Chicago with 30 points on a whopping 26 shots, just in front of DeMar DeRozan’s 29 on an even more inefficient 11/30 from the field.
This one started off a bit slow with somewhat lackluster scoring by everyone not named LaVine or Bobby Portis, who each had 10 in the first quarter. Knotted at 25 after one, Milwaukee caught fire in the second and found themselves up 14 at one point before allowing Chicago to creep back into the game. At half, the Bucks led 57-53.
While the Bucks’ third quarter performances were respectable in their previous two contests, they reared their ugly heads again in this one to an extent. Shooting just 42.9% to the Bulls’ 60.9%, they only mustered 25 points to their opponent’s 35, led by a combined 22 from DeRozan and LaVine. A Derrick Jones Jr. dunk with 1:44 remaining staked his squad to a 7 point lead, where it would remain as the quarter ended.
Entering down 88-81, the Bucks went to work with a quick 12-5 run to even the score at 93. Each side traded the lead until the last four-ish minutes, highlighted by a possession where Holiday collected two offensive rebounds and banked in a putback to grab a two point lead, one which Milwaukee would not surrender. As if his game-winner on Wednesday wasn’t enough, Holiday sank bucket after bucket and finished 6/8 from the floor, including two threes while playing all 12 minutes. The Bucks didn’t separate by any more than 5 points, but when the Bulls cut the lead back down to two on a LaVine triple with 24.4 remaining, Middleton caught the Bulls with their pants down by immediately firing an absolute bullseye off the inbounds pass to a streaking Jevon Carter for an easy layup.
On the next possession, Middleton got whistled on a LaVine three-point miss which seemed to spell disaster with three free throws upcoming... except Middleton didn’t even touch LaVine on the contest. Rightly motioning to coach Mike Budenholzer to challenge, the call was reversed. After winning the ensuing jump ball, the Bucks could play the foul game, with none other than Holiday sinking their final two free throws and sealing the six-point win.
Giannis may have led all scorers, but Holiday clearly deserves the game ball. Immediately as the fourth began, the Bucks showed impressive urgency that erased their deficit, thanks largely to Holiday. With an early three and a block of DeRozan soon after, the Chicago lead was cut to two. Later on, he buried another trey to bring the Bucks to within 1 at 99-8. It was in the last five minutes where he truly shone, though, with 10 points on some impressive jumpers to snatch away the lead. Just as important were his three offensive boards, each resulting in second-chance points. Frying up the Bulls like a juicy tenderloin, he again schooled an inexperienced opposing point guard in rookie Ayo Dosunmo, much like he did with Miami’s Gabe Vincent on Wednesday evening. He’s just too strong for those kids. All that plus he had DeRozan (who finished -21 despite his 29 points) in jail for much of the game, forcing plenty of bricks. He checked LaVine pretty well too, especially in the final period. His final line: 26 on 10/20 shooting (3/6 from downtown), 5 assists, 8 rebounds, 0 turnovers.
Middleton tidied up his game very neatly in the second half. Though his final numbers (22 points on 9/15 from the field, 3/4 from the line, 1/4 from deep, 7 dimes, 5 boards) look pretty typical, four of his six turnovers came in the first half. While the eventual points off turnovers numbers were 15-10 in favor of Chicago, that margin was 11-2 at one point in the second. He took much better care of the ball as the game wore on, settling in as a secondary ball handler after being tasked with primary duties earlier.
Bobby Portis’ disappearing act returned. On Wednesday night against Miami, Portis poured in 8 points in the first quarter, but managed just 7 the rest of the game and missed his final four three point attempts. Friday night he notched an even more productive first with 10 points on 4/5 shooting, but he only scored one more time the rest of the game on just four shots. While the Big Three did more than enough to carry the scoring load, they always could use the support of Milwaukee’s fourth leading scorer, especially with so many other offensive weapons injured. Let’s hope for a more even performance on Sunday.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Grayson Allen’s much-ballyhooed (by Bulls fans and media, anyway) journey to the United Center was met predictably, but outside of a nice transition dunk and a three, largely uneventful... until the fourth quarter when Jones Jr. elbowed him in the head underneath the Milwaukee basket. Upon review, the refs ruled it a flagrant-1. Naturally, Bulls fans cheered this and booed Allen as he hit his two free throws. After the game, Jones Jr. disputed the call, but also made it clear he wasn’t targeting Chicago’s new mortal enemy.
Derrick Jones jr accidentally elbows Grayson Allen pic.twitter.com/4aopMq8oRy— Gustavo (@iamvega1982) March 5, 2022
- Along those lines, newly-acquired big man Tristan Thompson got the start in the Bulls’ frontcourt alongside Nikola Vucevic, days after he raised some eyebrows with some pointed criticism of Allen (despite not being on the Bulls back then). It didn’t go too well. Giannis had little trouble scoring around Chicago’s prized buyout acquisition. Thompson also drew a technical foul while on the bench by mouthing off to the refs. He finished a game-low -25 and probably should have piped down a bit both before and during this one.
- While I think Serge Ibaka fits pretty well on this team, especially defensively and as a box-out guy, he’s been mostly a total zero on offense. Last night he played just 12 minutes (none in the fourth), missed all three of his shots, threw the ball away trying to find Portis in the corner, and was a team-low -12. He’s not the shooter we saw in Toronto, though even then I always thought Ibaka posted percentages well above his actual ability. He did pass the ball more often as the game wore on, at least.
- Speaking of low offensive output, Wesley Matthews managed 7 points and did hit an important three late, but did great work on DeRozan alongside Holiday.
- Jevon Carter had a nice little game with 8 points, including two threes in addition to being on the receiving end of Middleton’s ace with 20 seconds remaining.
- Giannis has been on a roll lately at the charity stripe, but he struggled there from the jump, missing 4 of his first 7. In the fourth, he naturally found himself shooting plenty of free throws and missed 4 of 8 in that quarter, but converted his last two with 28 seconds remaining to put the Bucks up 5. He finished 10/19 from the line at the end of the night.
- Somehow Jordan Nwora managed a +12 in his 13 minutes, despite blowing some rotations and not putting up many other numbers.
- Chicago outshot Milwaukee slightly at 50% to 48.9% and each team hit ten threes (Chicago attempting 26 and Milwaukee attempting 31), but a major free-throw disparity in Milwaukee’s favor (33 FTA to Chicago’s 11) dictated the result of this one a bit, even if Giannis missed nine of them.
- Milwaukee had a lot of trouble containing Chicago in transition during the third. Off both makes and misses, the Bulls kept pushing the tempo and driving the ball downcourt before the Bucks had a chance to get back. Transition defense is not usually this big of a problem for them, so let’s keep an eye on it moving forward.
- In case you missed it, Bud told the media before the game that Brook Lopez is moving closer to a return by starting 5-on-5 scrimmages and contact practice. Bally Sports Wisconsin also showed some footage of Lopez getting some on-court work in during yesterday’s shootaround.