The Milwaukee Bucks were largely favored in this series against the Chicago Bulls, but life comes at you fast. With home court advantage lost, Khris Middleton sidelined for a few weeks, and seemingly no answer for the midrange barrage from DeMar DeRozan, the defending champs are in the strangest – yet most familiar – of positions: needing to regain control of a playoff series threatening to go off the rails.
Where We’re At
After two games in the playoffs, Bucks fans are already creating motivational videos online. It’s not a great place to be, certainly not in the first round. Like I said on Locked On Bucks yesterday; Milwaukee has completely lost any margin for error that they previously possessed. Nothing about what happened last postseason, or this past regular season, or even the most recent game, matters. All that matters is what the Bucks do with the next game right in front of them, a perspective that their opponent clearly holds.
"Enjoy it. Learn from it. Get back to the same mentality." pic.twitter.com/if66s81u7L— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 21, 2022
Khris Middleton isn’t the only Milwaukee Buck who won’t be suiting up tonight. George Hill, previously out for a mysterious neck issue is now expected to be out for “a bit” with a mysterious abdominal issue. Fortunately, Bobby Portis is expected to return to action after getting clobbered in the face (no foul called...) and suffering an abrasion to his eye. It didn’t look pretty, but the Bucks need all the help they can get. As for replacing Khris? Good luck. There’s no clear recipe to replacing an All Star wing and premier bucket-getter, and it will take a tremendous effort from the trio of Wes Matthews, Grayson Allen, and Pat Connaughton to shore up the Bucks’ sudden weakness.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, spirits are high after seeing the Bulls respond positively to the Bucks efforts to re-capture Game 2’s momentum. From BlogABull:
Time after time in this game, I expected the Bucks to come out and take it to the Bulls. Instead, it was the Bulls who hit the ground running at the tip with a 9-0 run to start the game.
Then they would answer every single time when the Bucks went on a run: They responded when the Bucks got right back in the game in the first quarter. They dominated the second quarter. There were those Pat plays near the end of the third quarter, only to see Giannis totally took over the game to get the Bucks within three, followed by the Bulls responding again with a 6-2 run to close the frame. The 4th saw DeRozan and Vooch push that lead back out to 16 just over two minutes in, but then Bucks then kept coming and coming, and while it wasn’t always pretty in the clutch, the Bulls did just enough to hold on.
We’ve seen the Bulls fold so many times when the going gets tough, but they never fully did in this game in the face of onslaughts from arguably the best player in the NBA (with the officiating on his side, to boot).
(Editor’s note: yes, there’s a reference to the officiating that insinuates that Giannis Antetokounmpo was benefiting from a friendly whistle. No, I don’t agree with that interpretation, but it is still a fair one. Giannis drew a ton of shooting fouls in Game 2; whether you think they were earned or not probably depends on which side of I-94 you’re on.)
Chicago remains mostly healthy (only Lonzo Ball and Matt Thomas remain unavailable), and Zach LaVine hasn’t shown any ill effects from his lingering knee issue thus far. If the Bucks are going to take Game 3 in the United Center, they’ll be doing it against a mostly full-strength Bulls squad. Milwaukee is slightly favored in this matchup, as the oddsmakers are just as unsure about tonight’s outcome as many of us are!
Player To Watch
With Middleton missing, it’s time for Jrue Holiday to show up. Verily, he was present in Games 1 and 2, but much of the Bucks struggles started with his lackadaisical approach to ball control. He and Khris both contributed to Milwaukee’s Game 2 issues; funny how the criticism leveled at them was far from equal. The Bucks still boast a size advantage with Giannis and Brook Lopez up front, but my eyes will be all on Jrue to start.
Game 3: Against Chicago, the Bucks will...
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