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Bucks vs. Bulls: There’s a limit to clutchiness

Milwaukee almost closed out another comeback win, only to fall in OT

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Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite playing without DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, the 5-14 Bulls snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating the Bucks 120-113 in overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo (25 points to lead Milwaukee) and Brook Lopez combined for 35 second-half points to make up a late deficit, but Damian Lillard scored just one point after halftime and took just three shots in 20 minutes after intermission. Chicago’s attack was fronted by Nikola Vucevic (29 points on 11/21 shooting).

Game Summary

Milwaukee came firing out of the tip on a 9-0 run, but Chicago hit several threes to get back in the game before long. In fact, they tied it up around the three-and-a-half-minute mark and went ahead with two minutes left, before Giannis checked back in. The Bucks didn’t score a point for the final 3:26 of the first, putting them down a bucket after one, 26-24.

Cameron Payne hit a pair of treys as the second began, but the Bucks remained down a handful as they again struggled to find nylon. Down six at the quarter’s midpoint, Lillard and Giannis subbed back in but the latter promptly picked up his third foul and sat the remainder of the half. The former (17 first-half points) engaged in some early Dame Time to get the Bucks back in front, though, and they led 55-49 thanks to a Bobby Portis putback at the buzzer.

Chicago briefly snatched the lead back with a quick 7-0 run out of halftime, but Brook Lopez started to heat up from deep as the two sides went back and forth. Fresh after just thirteen first-half minutes, Giannis soon went to work too with a dozen in the period and Adrian Griffin successfully challenged what would have been Giannis’ fourth foul. Still, the Bulls tied it at 80 all in the closing seconds of the third.

Several Bucks miscues in the opening three minutes swung things toward the Bulls, who went 10-0 before a Bucks timeout with nine remaining. Chicago bored that out to a twelve-point advantage before Milwaukee battled back to within two. Up four with two minutes left, Coby White buried a stepback three with 1:26 on the clock, but that didn’t stop the Bucks. Malik Beasley drained a three with 48.1 seconds left and Lopez hit an even bigger one to take a one-point lead 20.5 remaining. Giannis had a massive rejection on the ensuing possession as Patrick Williams tried to throw down a go-ahead dunk:

That forced Chicago to foul, and after calling a timeout because of (stop me if you’ve heard this before) an inability to inbound, Giannis ended up with the ball. He went to the line and nailed them both with 5.2 left and that ended up saving the game: Alex Caruso of all people hit a game-tying three with Brook Lopez in his face at the buzzer to send it into OT as the Bucks elected not to foul:

In overtime, the two teams traded makes for three minutes, but a bad Lillard entry pass leading to a fast-break, putting the Bulls up three with 1:14 to go felt like a game-changer. Lillard again threw it away on an inbounds pass with 35.4 left and the Chicago lead extended to seven. A Lopez three with 12.8 left provided a glimmer of hope that was extinguished when Giannis botched their next inbound, down five. Milwaukee missed eight shots, coughed it up four times, and Chicago scored nine of their fourteen points in transition over these five minutes.

The Bucks return home to face the Hawks on Saturday with a 7 PM tip.

What Did We Learn?

As I mentioned in the rapid, the Bucks were hurt on the defensive glass, so that bugaboo isn’t in the rearview yet. It was particularly evident in the first half as the Bulls had a 29-19 edge on the boards, including an 8-1 advantage on the offensive end. They seemed to struggle with Chicago’s physicality at times on both ends and not just from Vucevic or his understudy, noted rebounder Andre Drummond. Before the game, I asked about the team’s recent improvement—they jumped from 27th to 7th in DREB% over the past two weeks—and he attributed that to addressing defensive rebounding both schematically and through fundamentals. After the game, I asked him what he meant by that, and I think I inadvertently some people on Twitter some bad flashbacks to a certain former Bucks head coach by eliciting this answer:

Three Shortfalls

Dame Time was fleeting, at the tail end of the second quarter.

As mentioned above, Lillard was suspiciously absent throughout the entirety of the second half. In fact, he played the entire third quarter and took only one shot. Granted, Giannis was rolling through most of that, but when he checked back in after four minutes had elapsed in the fourth, he only took two shots. He racked up seven assists during this time, but the Bucks’ offense was moribund enough that they could have used some more initiative from him, hunting his own shot. He ended up with a nice thirteen dimes but this was overshadowed by his seven turnovers, especially the two key ones in OT. What’s strange was that in the second quarter, he looked great for five minutes with twelve points that erased a small deficit, sending Milwaukee into the locker room ahead by six. It looked like Dame Time had come early. Usually, that comes late in games too, especially when it’s close. Last night it didn’t.

Khris Middleton didn’t have it.

He actually scored the game’s first five points, just a few days after some vintage late-game Khash Magic against the Heat. He then went on to miss seven of his next eight attempts and even missed back-to-back free throws in the second, then another a few minutes later. He played 27 minutes, nearly a season-high, so you’d think the Achilles wasn’t the reason for his struggles.

While it has been looking better this year, the Bucks still need to improve their inbounds passing.

This cost them a game in Chicago last December where an errant entry by Giannis led to a fastbreak dunk with 7.1 seconds left and also sent things into overtime. That 119-113 final score nearly matched last night’s, with an almost identical 13-7 Bulls edge in OT (last night the Bulls won the period 14-7). I certainly was thinking of that in the late stages of this one, and it turns out deja vu was even stronger than I was thinking at the time. Giannis has often been ragged on for his struggles getting the ball in play with full-court pressure on side-outs, but this time it was an experienced playmaker in Lillard who made the critical gaffe.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Here was Griffin’s rationale for not fouling up three with the shot clock off:

Good of him to take responsibility here. We’ll chalk it up to a rookie mistake.

  • DeMar DeRozan was a late scratch for this one with an ankle injury. There seems to be some sentiment among the Chicago faithful that the Bulls’ offense moved a lot better without him and LaVine, and indeed their 32 assists is significantly above their average of 21.9 per game prior to last night’s action, which was second-to-last in the league.
  • Andre Jackson Jr. threw down a nice alley-oop late in the first and a thunderous putback dunk late in the third, but soon after he left with back tightness. Many fans note that he wears the same kind of lower-back compress on the bench that we’ve seen Lopez wear for years. After the game, he was up walking around in the tunnel normally, so we can probably consider him day-to-day.
  • Speaking of, Pat Connaughton was also up on his feet and moving around decently back-of-house after the game, with no visible brace on his sprained right ankle. Before the game, Griffin had no update on him, but there’s nothing to indicate it’s serious at this time.
  • The Bucks only got to the line thirteen times to the Bulls’ 22, and all were from Giannis, Middleton, and Lillard. Here’s something unique: the latter two combined to miss three while Giannis hit all his.
  • This ended up being a very sloppy game in terms of ball control and passing, but it didn’t necessarily start that way. After five first-quarter turnovers, the Bucks only turned it over once in the second while the Bulls had 13 at half. Then it got ugly, with seven in the fourth and four in OT, and their ending figure of 20 almost equaled Chicago’s 21.
  • Milwaukee has struggled a bit with Vucevic recently, who did some real damage from floater range last night. Griffin even put Giannis on him midway through the third and it didn’t slow him too much. Moreover, Lopez couldn't do much to stop him at any point with 36.4 left in OT, putting him at the line to make it a two-possession game.
  • Still, Lopez had a nice night otherwise, going 6/10 from deep including the go-ahead shot late. That raised his season 3P% almost three percentage points to 36.7%. His 20 points mean he’s now hit that mark in three of the last five contests.
  • Entering last night’s action, these were Bobby Portis’ numbers over the last four games: 6 PPG on 35.5% from the field and 25% from three with 5.8 RPG. He’s now in a more extended slump after a four-point effort on eight attempts, though he did his part with nine rebounds. He was -14 in his 31 minutes, exceeded only by Payne’s -20.
  • Milwaukee got just 21 points from their bench, though Chicago got only ten more. MarJon Beauchamp was +11 in his 22 minutes, but AJJ’s -8 was not much better than Payne and Portis’ aforementioned ugly figures.
  • Portis got the nod over Middleton in OT as the Bucks went with their sometimes-surprising-sometimes-yucky jumbo lineup alongside Lopez and Giannis. This time it was on the yucky side.
  • Milwaukee put up 48 three-pointers (they hit sixteen, good for 33.3%), tying their season-high set in Brooklyn last month.

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