DeMar DeRozan scored a career playoff-high 41 points. Nikola Vucevic made big three after big three, scoring 24 points with 13 rebounds.
Alex Caruso had nine points and represented the difference for the Bulls in their series equaling 114-110 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday.
Perhaps appropriately bookending the game from the steal he got on the first play of the game that started the Bulls on a 9-0 run and Bucks timeout less than two minutes into the game to the symbolic close with a change drawn against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Caruso's impact went well beyond the box score numbers, which also included 10 assists as the starting point guard.
Alex Caruso draws a charge against Giannis Antetokounmpo to seal the win against Milwaukee in Game 2.
Caruso flummoxed Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton into another harried game, four more turnovers to make it eleven in the two games before Middleton left with what the Bucks said was a possible MCL knee sprain. If so, that's bad new for the Bucks since it would certainly put out Middleton the rest of the series.
"He was great," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said about the bothersome, balding, baffler Caruso. "He made a couple of big threes, had a couple of rebounds that were big. He felt like he could play more minutes (38 as Donovan primarily utilized starters). He's really a great guy because he will not shortcut or rest on the court, so to speak. He's going to give you everything he has. He's smart, knows what he has to do, is physical defensively for our team and he gives you everything he has. I thought he played well and really did a lot of good things for us tonight."
Caruso had the team best plus/minus for his time on the court at plus-16 (Vucevic was plus-13). But it was even more as Caruso almost was something of a relay team against whoever had it going for the Bucks. He started on Middleton, moved onto Jrue Holiday, the star point guard, and pressured him in the second quarter into a pair of turnovers and out of the game with a third foul. Caruso blocked a Brook Lopez shot and was then taking the point of the sword against the charging Antetokounmpo.
Alex Caruso hits a timely three in the fourth quarter in the Game 2 win over Milwaukee.
"You don't have a chance against these guys if you don't play defense, and I think we've done a decent job the first two games," said Caruso. "You have to go out and execute and do your job. It's accepting the challenge. They have a two-time MVP, Jrue Holiday is (one of the most) unappreciated guards, Middleton is a multiple All-Star for a reason. They've won the title. It's about trying to match the physicality, bringing the first-time playoff guys into it. I thought they did a good job. It's just about competing. It's the playoffs, no tomorrow; you've got to be present and show up for what you have to do."
There have been so many questions and doubts about whether the Bulls could or would, or even had the will. But these first two games with the series now headed to the United Center Friday tied 1-1 has been dictated by the defense, and surprisingly, it's been the Bulls defensive effort that has been the most impressive.
It's been 36 turnovers for the Bucks in the two games and 17 Bulls steals.
Both teams shot poorly in Game 1 after the long layoff for the play-in tournament. But the Bulls bothered Milwaukee into 14 of 36 on threes in Game 2, the Bulls meanwhile shooting almost 50 percent overall and 48 percent on threes. Holiday again was six of 16, and top Bucks marksman Pat Connaughton is now two of 13 in the two games. The Bucks reserves contributed a total of eight points in Game 2 in continuing to search out Antetokounmpo for most of the offense. It's been a defensive tour de force led by Caruso, and even as DeRozan was the story with his big scoring game, he could only marvel at Caruso's impact.
"He's the anchor to our defense, bringing intensity, being vocal," said DeRozan. "I told him I lean on him for his energy defensively, him being the vocal leader. He gets me going sometimes even if not talking to me directly. If he's just speaking, there's a lot I take from it and try to take that challenge on, especially when you see him going out there competing against Giannis, Jrue, whoever it is. You want to match that same intensity as him. He's definitely the anchor when it comes to us defensively."