A few days ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were teetering on the edge of losing control of their first round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. Khris Middleton was out with injury, Giannis Antetokounmpo had been restrained by the opposing defense, and the rest of Milwaukee’s role players were struggling to contribute in winning ways. My, how far we’ve come; the Bucks followed up their 30-point blowout Game Three win with a dominant 24-point victory in Game Four. The Bucks now lead the series, 3-1; Game Five is on Wednesday.
Milwaukee took the Bulls best shots in the opening minutes, but methodically worked themselves into the level of pressure and activity that defined Game 3. It was clear that the Bucks took Chicago’s level of physical contact (much of it unfettered by the officials) as a sign that they needed to lock in, and early on the disruption kept Milwaukee from building too big of an advantage. However, Milwaukee’s crisp movement wore down the Bulls’ defensive rotations, as the Bucks’ small ball lineup kept grinding away, keeping the Bulls at bay and raining down open shots from behind the line. After the Bucks built their biggest lead of the game (at that point), the Bulls rattled off a quick 11-0 run to revive the hometown crowd (which had grown melancholy). Then Giannis asserted his dominance to put Chicago back in its place, right where they belong.
“Chicago Grayson Allen” has become a Thing. After leading the team in scoring in Game 3, the Duke product logged a career high with 27 points, and was absolutely scorching from behind the arc (6-for-7 on threes). As the starting shooting guard for much of the regular season, Allen was expected to excel next to the other four starters. When Wes Matthews entered the picture, Mike Budenholzer stuck with him for his defensive upside and relegated Allen to the bench. That he’s found his groove as a reserve is one thing, but to be able to break out in a big way in this specific series and demonstrate so much activity on defense (Allen had 3 steals today!) is an X-factor for the remainder of the Bucks’ time in the postseason. Keep booing this man!
"We booed him during the game and he really started hooping man. I think we just stuck with it." pic.twitter.com/W5uXza1vZI— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 24, 2022
Bobby Portis continues to not f*ck around. As the interim starting power forward, Portis rejoins the starting lineup that he grew so comfortable within during the regular season. Once again, Chicago had no answer for his combination of functional size and offensive skill (Portis logged 14 points and 10 rebounds) alongside Giannis and Brook Lopez, and Bobby has even managed to maintain the edge that the team will need as the playoffs continue.
Was just tryna get my arm back and ended up getting a tech smh ♂️ https://t.co/4aj9SHIctj— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) April 24, 2022
We live in a “Post Giannis” era. I don’t mean that we have to get used to life after Giannis, not by a long shot. Giannis spent a ton of time in the post today and, between his footwork and his passing, has shown a level of skill development that was borderline unthinkable four years ago, during his first MVP season. Chicago continues throwing as much help as they can when Giannis has the ball, and Giannis keeps finding the solution to that help and putting his team in position to score. Whether it’s picking out the right pass to a teammate on the perimeter, or making the precise right step to put up a close-range shot, Giannis’ skilled post play is as good of an omen as Bucks fans could hope for this postseason.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Seriously, the refs were allowing a fair amount of contact today. On the whole, there were a total of 41 fouls called, but many of them were off-ball or offensive. Case in point: in the first half, the Bucks only took six free throws (a low total for them), while the Bulls took zero.
- Red Panda was the halftime entertainment at the United Center today. It’s nice that the fans in Chicago got a chance to see a great performance from someone wearing red in the Bulls last home game.
- Alex Caruso ended up leaving the game with a head injury. We hope he doesn’t have any lasting damage after getting inadvertently whacked in the face by Jevon Carter’s off arm.
Alex Caruso got hit in the face and got bloodied, and I’m sure he’s incensed that no foul was called. Of course, when that happens, a foul gets called, every time. pic.twitter.com/AmQJ3Xxdu1— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) April 24, 2022
- In the third quarter, Pat Connaughton pulled off a hesitation move while driving against Vucevic that turned Vooch into a living statue. Connaughton isn’t known for his ball-handling…but Vucevic isn’t known for his containment defense either.
- Tristan Thompson might be the absolute worst active NBA player. Beyond that, he also engages in complete clown behavior on the court. Every second of watching him is an awful experience.
- Old man Serge Ibaka pulled off a double-clutch two-handed dunk in garbage time, giving hope to all of us in our mid-30s.
- Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan exited the floor before the final buzzer went off. Each had a good game, but the tension on the Chicago bench was palpable as they head into Game Five with no more wiggle room.
- Not to get ahead of ourselves, but scoreboard-watching is an unrivaled pastime and I would be remiss if I didn’t lambast the Brooklyn Nets for being completely useless in their series against the Boston Celtics. One of these two teams will face the winner of Bucks/Bulls, and right now the Bulls have exactly one more playoff win this season than the vaunted Nets do. Incredible disappointment for that team to go out that way; they’re down 3-0, but does anybody really think they’re coming back from this brink? Ben Simmons ain’t walking through that door.
- Single-game plus/minus is not a valid statistic. We know that...but I’m still gonna cite this statistic: the Bucks had seven players who managed a double-digit positive plus/minus in this game, and the eighth highest (Pat Connaughton) was still plus-8 on the afternoon.
- Much of today’s success would not have happened without Jrue Holiday. After the first two games where he clearly didn’t live up to his standard, he produced 28 points (including 5-of-8 from deep) and 7 assists while also making life hell for Chicago’s guards and wings. Whether Game 2 was a wake-up call or something else changed, getting this version of Jrue is the sort of thing that bodes well for Milwaukee’s chances to return to the NBA Finals.