Bulls fall in Game 4, face 3-1 elimination game vs. Bucks
Chicago struggled to contain Bucks' role players Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis on Sunday night.
Remind Me Later •
You know it's not going your way when one of your biggest improvements is the opposing team not emptying its bench in the fourth quarter of another rout until four minutes later than in the previous game. The Milwaukee Bucks Sunday did so with four and a half minutes left leading by 24 points on the way to a 119-95 victory.
The Bucks now lead the series 3-1. Game 5 is in Milwaukee Wednesday.
And the Bulls are now down to the idioms, backs to the wall, at the edge of their playoff cliff.
But not yet down for the count?
"You have to play like it could be your last game, that's the part you're at," observed Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 24 points and 13 assists. "That's the mentality we've been trying to play with; now that's reality. You lose any more you're out and you've got to go home. I'm not particularly ready to go home, and I hope everybody else isn't.
"We're going to have to do something," said LaVine. "Guys have got to step up and figure out what role they have to play. Whatever we have to do to get us one win. We've got to throw our eggs all in one basket."
Ah, I missed that one.
But the hot shooting Bucks didn't miss much.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists and, oh my, Public Enemy No. 7 Grayson Allen scored 27 points on six of seven threes. The Bucks were 17 of 33 overall on threes to nine for 36 for the Bulls. And pretty much controlled the game for the second consecutive air-quickly-out-of-the-building home game.
Fighting off a hot starting LaVine with 12 first quarter points, the Bucks led by nine and 25-22 after one. They extended that to a dozen midway through the second quarter and 56-41 at halftime. The Bulls made their only threat of the game with Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmo each with a pair of third quarter three pointers. That made it 68-60 Bucks with 6:27 left in the third.
The United Center, fans wearing red and red in the faces shouting, began to rumble. And then it was Giannis, Giannis, Allen, Giannis, Giannis. And with the Bucks still chasing the Bulls off their best looks, that was a quick Bucks 11-0 to match the Bulls just recently 11-0.
And then when Antetoukounmpo rushed down court to end the third quarter to find Allen for yet another three, it was 90-74 Bucks going into the fourth quarter. Then 100-78 not long after that, and not much more to say for Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
But we kept asking.
"Just stay positive," DeMar DeRozan said hopefully. "First and foremost you can't show panic, especially with the veteran guys. You have to understand where there is a will there is a way; still got an opportunity. All it takes is one game at a time. Have a couple of days before we play again. Regroup mentally, emotionally, physically. And look forward to the challenge."
Yeah, what else can he say? It's just disappointing even if no one expected the Bulls to win the series. But after Game 2 in Milwaukee...
DeRozan had 23 points, but again remained in the Bucks' primary sights, shooting eight of 20.
"They definitely pack the paint, show length, try and take a lot of my space away," DeRozan admitted. "They locked in defensively, all five guys whenever we do something. Not just myself, Zach as well. Just trying to make it tougher on us. Take away our easy shots, where we like to get to our spots. The length, you definitely see it there, but we just gotta keep being aggressive."
DeRozan dismissed the Bucks being unique, but their size inside and perimeter quickness is something few teams can match. Though DeRozan had that magnificent 41 points in the Game 2 Bulls win, he sees an extra Bucks face over every screen and maneuver.
Because DeRozan and LaVine are such good one-on-one players, the Bulls offense relies more on isolation play. Again, unlike in the first two games, the Bucks cut down on their turnovers. So it gave the Bulls fewer opportunities in transition for easier baskets. Not only do the Bucks have active defenders, but the Bulls take so many difficult shots. That LaVine and DeRozan can make them is what has separated them. But it's too much in a playoff series.
The Bucks' defense is geared toward protecting the interior, which they can do with their size with Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, the latter who was again instrumental with 14 points and 10 rebounds. And even a little skirmish with a frustrated LaVine late in the game. Both got technical fouls.
Because of that plan, the Bulls again rarely got to the basket, mostly taking their chances with jump shots. Which, again, is not a playoff formula for success. It's also why Bulls coach Billy Donovan has been talking about spacing. With so much of the Bulls offense coming from screening actions, the screener has often been too slow to give space after the screen for a shot or pass to work the ball. The result has been the Bucks being able to show a trap or double team look and then recover without giving up a clear shot. Though the Bulls had 27 assists, it was deceiving because they so infrequently were able to get deep in the paint to fan out for open shots.
They did so in that 11-0 third quarter run that produced back to back Dosunmu threes. But the Bucks have adjusted well in this series, like showing more help against LaVine after his hot start. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer often has been criticized in the playoffs for stagnant responses, which hasn't been the case in this series. Though the Bucks probably do force Antetokounmpo into more tougher shots than any main star with so few plays for him. It's a testament to his brilliance that he effects the game so much.
DeRozan had 23 points, Patrick Williams had 20 and Nikola Vucevic added 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulls bench totaled 17 points, which was 10 fewer than Milwaukee's Allen scored.
Which has to be another gut punch in this series.
Allen, of course, was the villain blamed for the flagrant foul that sidelined Alex Caruso for six weeks with a fractured wrist in January. After that game. Donovan issued an untypical blistering condemnation of Allen, harkening back to his time at Duke when there were incidents involving tripping. Allen never has had incidents in four NBA seasons, which angered the Bucks in response.
It didn't matter much to Bulls fans, who unleashed a Laimbeer-like booing greeting the next time the teams played in Chicago in March.
Though in a mocking sense against the Bulls, the Bucks began to playfully boo Allen both in that game and since.
"Walk on the bus, boo," Allen said after Sunday's game. "In the hotel, boo. About to watch film, boo. They have so much fun doing that I think it's funny. They kind of have turned it into a fun thing. It makes it hearing out there during the game a lot easier, too, because they think it's so funny."
Allen was condemned by Bulls fans and elsewhere for an apparent smirk, which seems to be his look, when Caruso was hurt in that January game and Allen was ejected. Allen claimed he's tried to reach out to Caruso without success. Allen actually has seemed congenial even if no one in Chicago wants to hear that. Caruso, for his part, Sunday was hurt again, though Allen was nowhere near the scene. Caruso sat out the second half with a possible concussion or facial fracture after accidentally being hit by reserve Javon Carter. Though the way Caruso plays—in this case throwing himself over a screen to get at Carter—he does put himself in more precarious situations.
While Allen has been a revelation, especially in the two games in the United Center, totaling 49 points after not scoring as many in two previous seasons in the playoffs with Utah and Memphis. He scored three points combined in the two games in Milwaukee.
Which also is something of the paradox of this series, if also the Bulls recent playoff experience.
After playing impressively in Milwaukee and giving hope of perhaps even a series victory, the Bulls were relatively uncompetitive at home. Which now makes it seven straight playoff home losses since Derrick Rose's banked in three pointer to beat Cleveland seven years ago.
The Bucks, while avoiding what seems like obvious screen and lob plays for Antetokounmpo, do run some clever down screens that get Allen open for threes. He made 11 of 14 in Chicago as the Bucks bench celebrated with boos.
"Somebody showed me the picture when he had the and-one in Game 3, and the whole bench was booing him," Antetokounmpo said. "I thought it was really funny. He's got to take that picture and frame it. That's the definition of his career. He's played amazing. Maybe we got to boo him even more. Maybe Milwaukee fans got to boo him."
Antetekounmpo backed off from that, but the Bulls know they have a problem when a Bucks reserve outscores each of their three best players.
"Their stars are going to be their stars," said LaVine. "It's going to be tough to take them out. I think their role players have done a really good job of stepping up. It's tough to account for that. I think whenever we've adjusted, they've done a good job of countering that and coming out and giving us a different look offensively and defensively. You got to give him (Allen) credit. He's hitting shots. Obviously, we know what happened (with the Caruso injury). At the end of the day, it's basketball, too. It's not like we're going out there saying, ‘That guy can't beat us.' Them as a whole is beating us right now. You can't just account for him. It's everybody."
Which, obviously, is the main problem.
It's a very good Bucks team with a true superstar of the era, tough and relentless. And Donovan knows that can deflate a team. He knows the Bulls need some more pep, and perhaps some pep talks to extend this series back to Chicago for Game 6.
"I felt, even on the bench tonight, the frustration from our guys," Donovan admitted. "I think they were really working hard. I think that their physicality and the level of want-to and try was really there. There were times where I think we gave really, really good effort, and they still scored. I think there were times we moved the ball and generated pretty good looks for each other and the ball didn't go in the basket. That's gets deflating and you could kind of sense that a little bit and we have to be able to confront that and deal with it.
"Unfortunately that's the mental challenge we're going to have when we are not shooting it well," Donovan added. "Can we really stay engaged and locked in and try to get stops to maybe generate fast break points for easier baskets?"
The Game 2 Bulls win and Bucks loss, and not only on the court, looked debilitating.
Bucks scoring star Khris Middleton was declared out for the series with a knee injury. But the Bucks actually may be better off without him with this matchup. By starting former Bull Portis, the Bucks added size and physical play against a smaller Bulls team. It's left DeRozan often to contest bigger and stronger players. And more size to bother him. Like they say in racing, horses for courses. Some players are better against certain opponents.
Caruso seemed to be menacing Middleton, who had 11 turnovers in the first two games. Maybe just coincidence, but the Bucks were more sure with the ball subsequently.
So now what can or will the Bulls do?
Donovan said, obviously, everything is on the table now as the cliches go. He dropped Tristan Thompson after a brutal scoreless three turnovers in five minutes, and it seems doubtful we'll see him again. The acquisition made sense at the time; no longer. Javonte Green finally reappeared and had some effect with his hustle play. But it's not like Donovan has many options, especially with the uncertainty involving Caruso.
Though perhaps what was even more unfortunate was that this might have been the last game for the Bulls in Chicago this season. This has been a great season for the Bulls, first in the NBA halfway through the season, DeRozan in the MVP discussion, DeRozan and LaVine toggling as one of the best scoring duos, the team dynamically electric and exciting with Lonzo Ball's speed and daring. The ball moved and Ball moved. And Alex Caruso stopped most everything else. It was a beautiful thing to see. The community fell back in love. This would have been the opportunity for the fans despite Sunday's result to demonstrate their appreciation, which would have come easily and naturally. But with the outcome the arena emptied out long before the end and players shuffled mournfully off the court.
"Those (Milwaukee) guys have been through it," DeRozan pointed out. "At the end of the day, you've got to give them credit. They won a series without Giannis (playing every game). They won a series with players down. They're a championship team for a reason. That's how you respond whether it's on the road, at home. We've gotten a taste of what it's like when a great team like that responds. It's on us to regroup, really dissect this whole thing and figure out how we can keep this thing going. We've got a couple of days to figure it out and go from there."
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.