The Bulls were unable to buck their recent trend with a fourth consecutive defeat, falling 118-105 to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls took an early lead with an upbeat and fast paced first half, stumbled in the third quarter and made a gritty rally late that got within six points.
The Bulls were led by Denzel Valentine with 20 points. Cameron Payne tied a career high with 17 points. He added six assists. Bobby Portis had 16 points, Justin Holiday had 11 and Cristiano Felicio had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Lauri Makkanen had nine points.
The Bucks went to 38-34 and the Bulls fell to 24-48.
Markkanen returned after missing five games with back problems. He started along with Felicio, Valentine, Justin Holiday and Payne. Paul Zipser was out along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Robin Lopez was available but did not play. Giannis Antetokounmpo was out for Milwaukee with an ankle sprain. It was a pain for the Bucks, and Payne for the Bulls was bruising for Milwaukee to start. Payne had the Bulls energized to open a game for the first time in weeks, Payne with a three and then a three-point play and throwing out ahead to Valentine that drew a clear path foul. Payne’s driving score and pass to Felicio for a score gave the Bulls a 15-4 lead. The Bucks got a pair of threes from ancient Jason Terry, but this time the Bulls energy didn’t dissipate. The Bulls continued to push the ball and got a shooting boost late in the quarter from Portis to lead 34-24 after one. The Bulls shot 58 percent and made four of seven threes. The Bucks shot right back to start the second quarter and ahead on a 14-3 run behind the play of their bench with former Bull Tony Snell and Shabazz Muhammad. The Bulls nosed back ahead with rugged play on the boards from David Nwaba and then Markkanen getting the feel after a quiet first quarter. The teams traded leads and again Payne’s push ignited the Bulls late as the teams were tied at 61 at half. Payne and the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings, who play similarly, were assessed technical fouls as the teams left the court at halftime after challenging one another aggressively in the quarter.
The Bulls got back on top behind Payne to start the second half with a quick drive and no-look pass score to Valentine and 67-61 lead. But Payne appeared to develop a cramp or leg pull and left as the Bucks ran off nine straight to take a 76-72 lead with 4:16 left in the third quarter. It was more Snell with a purpose we rarely saw with the Bulls and Muhammad combining for 14-8 close to the third quarter and 90-82 Milwaukee lead going into the fourth quarter. The Bucks had 58 points off the bench through three quarters. No Bucks starter had scored in double figures through three quarters, though the Bucks were shooting 54 percent and 12 of 22 on threes with Snell four of four. The Bucks added on to start the fourth quarter with another Terry three and a Muhammad three-point play, pushing their lead into double digits and remaining ahead 107-94 as the Bulk went into a timeout with 5:44 left in the game. Payne did return midway through the fourth quarter and the Bulls continued to hustle. Valentine went diving onto the floor to save a loose ball that ended in a Felicia three point play and a Payne three with 4:07 left got the Bulls within 107-100. The Bulls got a pair of late hustle scores grabbing second shots, but could only get within six before the Bucks pulled away.