The Bulls wanted to make sure they got the attention of the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
It may not have been a great idea.
Because the Bucks Friday in the first Bulls home playoff game in more than five years made it look like it may be another five years in a dominating, overpowering, magisterial, commanding—there may not be enough adjectives to fully explain this one—111-81 victory over the Bulls to take a 2-1 lead in the opening round playoff series.
"They came out and whupped out butts, and now it's on us how are we going to respond," said DeMar DeRozan, who was held to 30 fewer points from Game 2 to Game 3.
Though it was hardly DeRozan's fault or deserving much or any of the blame. The Bucks just were so much better and superior that you'd think they were attempting to win a second consecutive NBA championship.
Oh right, that.
"That's what I've always talked about with teams that have won championships," reminded Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "They know how to respond and coming out of the first two games with a split... regardless of whether (injured) Khris Middleton was playing or not it would have been the same team with that experience and their fortitude. For some of our younger guys it's hopefully a good learning experience of what it means to go to another level. I thought they went to another level and we did not."
The Bulls may not have that level. Not many teams do.
Tap to listen to postgame reaction from Billy Donovan following Chicago's Game 3 loss to Milwaukee.
There was a lot of post game talk about responding and being the aggressor and physicality and intensity, mentality and competing, and did anyone mention responding?
Actually it was a heck of a brave effort from the suddenly undermanned Bucks having lost the home court advantage in the series to pull off a come-from-behind win on the road.
That's right, the Bulls had a 3-2 lead... and it was pretty much all Bucks from there and back to Bucks home court advantage.
C'mon, we all needed one smile after this one.
How bad was it? It was so bad that no one knew who invented King Arthur's Round Table. Sir Cumference, of course. And then when the buffalo left his family he, of course, said bison. No, that's bad.
It was so bad for the Bulls Friday that Public Enemy No. 7, Grayson Allen, was the Bucks leading scorer with 22 points, making five of seven threes including three in the first quarter when the Bucks took an 18-point lead and ABC-TV may have switched to a rerun of Bulls Anatomy. That body was cold; like the shooting arms.
It's actually Grey's Anatomy, which was everyone's color as the anticipation quickly drained from the faces of a United Center crowd ready to explode. And not witness an implosion.
Though in the second quarter, Bulls lead scorer Nikola Vucevic with 19 points set a heck of a screen on...
I'm really running out of angles here.
This was disappointing, particularly coming off the high of the Game 2 victory in Milwaukee in which the Bulls made a lot of observers wonder just how good was this Milwaukee team, and now without crucial scorer Middleton for the series.
Very, very, very good, as it turns out.
Former Bull and Bucks fan favorite Bobby Portis, wearing the Horace Grant goggles after his eye abrasion left him out of most of Game 2, moved into the starting lineup for Middleton and had a huge game with 18 points and 16 rebounds. And two of those six Bucks first quarter threes that got them rolling to 33-17 after one.
"He stepped up and he made big plays," Zach LaVine offered about Portis. "He did his job. We have to adjust if that's the way they're gonna go moving forward. We've gotta meet force with force."
That's not exactly the Bulls formula, though with Alex Caruso's activity and DeRozan's scoring, and forcing the Bucks into 36 turnovers in the first two games, the Bulls looked like the better team for maybe six of the eight quarters.
Now six of the 12.
Just for the record, it was 60-41 Bucks at halftime when the Bucks closed the half sloppily, and then 73-44 four minutes into the third quarter. And at 90-59 Bucks after three with Portis closing the third quarter with a three and a shimmy dance, perhaps the Bulls got a break with Sundays Game 4 at noon.
There was nothing left to respond to, so Donovan sat his weary Big Three regulars who all were averaging close to or more than 40 minutes per game. Except for Patrick Williams, who finally lit the scoreboard with a point in the fourth, his only one of the game. Through three quarters, the Bulls reserves combined for Coby White's five points. Allen had 20 by then.
"He (Allen) was the guy we were leaving," said LaVine. "We have to look into that if he's going to shoot the ball that way."
Zach LaVine had 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the Game 3 loss to Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points and nine assists again, mostly passing out of the Bulls continued help and pressure to block off the lane. Jrue Holiday added 16 points and the Bucks controlled the rebounding with a 55-43 margin. They had just 10 turnovers for seven Bulls points and held the Bulls, forced to shoot mostly jump shots and not particularly well, to 30 interior points.
The favorite playoff cliche is about making adjustments, and while there seemed like a few technical changes—DeRozan said the Bucks primarily pressured on the right side of screens to induce he and LaVine toward their left and away from rhythm shots—it was especially the passion with which the Bucks played.
"I thought they were the aggressor," agreed Donovan. "They've always been an outstanding defensive team, but I thought they were the more physical team. The first two games, I felt physically we competed well. I didn't think we competed physically as well as needed to. I felt they took their physicality up from Games 1 and 2.
"There's a huge mental component to this in the playoffs," reminded Donovan. "When you go from (games) one to two to three to four, there are a lot of things happen and for a lot of our guys this is new and as much as you talk about the fact you split in Milwaukee and everybody feels good, I knew and felt you don't win an NBA championship with the inability to respond. And as much as you try to prepare for their response—and everyone talked about Khris Middleton being out and he's a great player and important piece to the team—they were still going to raise it. We've got to understand in a series the mental fortitude, preparation, attention to detail and heightened awareness and intensity goes up with each game. We're going to have to be able to find a way to bring it up to a higher level than it was."
The Bucks also made it clear DeRozan wasn't getting no 41 points again.
Donovan and DeRozan talked about making the right play and the difficult shots DeRozan made despite the Bucks defense in Game 2, but this was different. DeRozan Friday finished with 11 points on four of nine shots. He didn't play the fourth quarter when he takes a lot of shots, but it was the first game all season DeRozan did't have at least double figure field goal attempts.
DeMar DeRozan had 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting against Milwaukee.
"I wasn't frustrated at all," insisted DeRozan. "I knew they were gonna make adjustments. Got a feel for it throughout the game. But by the time I kind of got a feel for it, they got it rolling offensively. You gotta give them credit. Now it's on us to make our adjustments on how we are going to counter that, trying to understand how we can execute better and take advantage of how they are guarding me and Zach."
It was DeRozan who clearly was targeted, and understandably and not only for the 41 in Game 2.
LaVine finished with 15 points and led the team with five assists, but he was limping some on that troublesome knee after a three-point play late in the third quarter. LaVine has consistently admitted he's played hurt quite a while and that's not stopping him from still playing big minutes. Donovan said LaVine even asked to go back in during the fourth quarter. But LaVine also acknowledged afterward with a smile what's been clear.
"I've been limping all season," he said. "I'll be all right.
So DeRozan was the obvious target.
"We didn't have that same competitiveness, I didn't think, that we had the first two games in Milwaukee," LaVine said. "We took a punch the first game when we went down nine and we responded right away. So we've get to look at the film and figure out how we can do a better job of matching force with force. It's a game of responding. They came out and hit us in the mouth and we didn't respond the right way. That's what we've got another game for. We saw how they played us differently; we've got to adjust."
While the Bucks didn't devote all out traps and double teams to DeRozan, every time he moved over a screen a very tall person was there in a show-and-recover defense. Not that Brook Lopez recovers very quickly, but pretty much whenever DeRozan looked at the rim his defender this time fighting hard over screens and a tall person like Lopez, Portis or Giannis was jumping at him.
DeRozan had four assists, but the Bulls aren't a high quantity three-point shooting team. Williams and Coby White were a combined one of 10. Though White led the Bulls in rebounds. Also, not that good, though credit to him. Vucevic and Alex Caruso made three each of the triples, but the Bulls lack the classic catch-and-shoot three-point ace. Which makes swinging the ball for long shots less effective. Most of the Bulls shooters like to go off the dribble.
"As a competitor, you have to take on the challenge of trying to tie this thing up," said DeRozan. "That's what we have to do come Sunday, meet that challenge. I know every game is going to be different. Me shooting nine shots, us shooting 39 percent from the field, nine for 34 from three; it's on us to be more aggressive and come out of the gate and match their intensity."
The Bucks with the size mostly play a defense to protect the middle, which forces teams to be good from distance.
"When Lopez is down there and Giannis, it hard to finish over them," said Donovan. "You have to make the extra pass and take some open threes. With the way they're going to help, you're going to have to spray the ball out."
It's why Vucevic has led the team in field goal attempts two of the three games, which has been rare this season playing with DeRozan and LaVine. Vucevic played well again, making the only two shots in the first quarter while the Bucks were scoring 15. Like the idiom, you don't want dogs chasing cars. And you don't want centers shooting threes as your primary offense.
It's what the Bucks have been so good at. And particularly their defensive play, which lacked some in Game 2 when Portis went out early and then Middleton late. Even the shots the Bulls made were difficult, and the Bucks with the rebounding edge kept the Bulls from much transition play. Donovan after the game called for more pace, but that's been difficult all season since Lonzo Ball was lost.
DeRozan dismissed the margin of defeat in deference to the result, the loss is a loss thing. Perhaps not to the many who were streaming out of the arena early in the fourth quarter. This was what the Bucks had been doing to the Bulls previously.
"Now we've got an opportunity to tie this thing up Sunday on our home court, and that's what we're going to go out there and do," said DeRozan. "They responded the way they should've. Give them credit. We didn't come out and compete the way we should've, and that's a lesson on us. They did what they were supposed to do."
But like that?