Talk about being unable to Buck this trend.
The Bulls Wednesday lost 116-113 on the last possession for the second consecutive game, the third time in the last four games they lost a close, single digit game and tied for the most games in the league decided by three points or fewer.
The Bulls' record dropped to 5-17 as they now have lost two games by one point, two games by two and to the Bucks Wednesday by three when Khris Middleton made a three pointer with 5.2 seconds left after Milwaukee's Brook Lopez twice tipped the ball after his driving miss. Eric Bledsoe then slapped the ball back to Malcolm Brogdon, who passed to an open Middleton for the three-point margin. The Bulls then got an equally wide open three to Justin Holiday on the inbounds, but his attempt was short to end the game.
"I thought for sure I was going to make it,:" said Holiday, who has been setting franchise records this season with his three-point shooting. "It was on line, just a little short. Again, we had a good look at the end. We were right there to win this game against one of the top teams in this league. We're on the way, but we want to win."
And again, close. But unlike in horseshoes, slow dancing, shuffleboard and curling where it's pretty good. It seemed more like the curling when sweeping my floor and curling most of the dirt under the carpet. It's looking good for the Bulls, but only somewhat on the surface. The result remains unsatisfying.
Lauri, ready yet?
It seems like this Bulls team, despite now having lost seven of eight and tied for the third poorest record in the NBA, is just a Lauri and Kris and Bobby away from being seriously competitive.
"I was impressed we weathered the storms tonight, especially against a team of Milwaukee's caliber." said Robin Lopez, who had an astounding season high 17 points and team most eight points in the fourth quarter in his closing quarter duel with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
I always feared I'd never be able to write that.
"Anytime they made a run, we stuck with our game plan and stuck with each other. We were just together tonight," said Lopez.
The Bulls, indeed, had a lot of good togetherness things going for them with 24 points each from Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, LaVine also with team highs of nine rebounds and seven assists. The last assist was on a beauty of a drive and slip pass for a Parker dunk with 1:48 left for a 111-109 Bulls lead.
"I love how we're competing right now," said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "You take away that second quarter against Miami (outscored 32-13), we're playing really well our last three games. We've had a chance to win all of them. I love our spirit and our comeback in the Miami game. We fought San Antonio all the way to the end. Had a chance to win that game on the last possession. Then tonight, against a team that's extremely tough to beat in this building, one of the best atmospheres in the league, I thought we came out and did a lot of good things. I thought we did execute down the stretch."
Nothing much to second guess this time like LaVine's pull up three to end the Spurs game.
Perhaps not inserting the seven-foot Markkanen for the offensive rebound at the end, though Markkanen just began full workouts from his elbow injury and isn't likely to play for a week, Hoiberg said. Ah, if only. Call it a theme.
The Bucks tied the game at 111 when Antetokounmpo bulled his way in—yet again—for another dunk, one time earlier seeming to dunk over Parker while standing flat footed. Antetokounmpo, probably the leading candidate for league MVP, had 36 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Ryan Arcidiacono then spun a three in and out in a game it almost seemed a shock he missed.
The overarching, overachiever the Bulls call "Arch" had his second consecutive 22-point game along with five steals, five rebounds, four assists with five of nine three pointers and yet another painful collision as the game ended.
"I always try to get back up and not show any signs of weakness," he said. And he always seems to. The undrafted kid who was considered a long shot to even make the NBA is now in the league's top 15 in three-point shooting and already in line to replace Steve Kerr as Warriors coach when Kerr decides to retire.
"I'm always a scrappy guy," Arcidiacono said when asked about exceeding 20 points again. "I want to be that for our team because I think that is something we need. I think it's something that gives us a spark on a daily basis. I'm going to shoot it with confidence. I think these last couple of games I've established myself on the defensive end. On the offensive end, I got stuff to go for me as well. Guys have been finding me. If they are going to blitz Zach, we have open looks for myself and Justin. We'll just be ready to shoot it. I think we weathered the storm pretty well. We all know what happened the last game here, going up by 20 and losing by 20. We just stuck together, stuck to our game plan, took good shots and made them take tough ones. Besides the Giannis dunks, I think we did a really good job defensively."
Yeah, that Antetokounmpo guy.
After the Arcidiacono miss, Brook Lopez, with the twins' mother in attendance, missed in one of the rare games the hirsute Lopez was the one who dominated offensively. Parker then got his drive blocked and after a long referee review with 1:48 left, the call was changed with the ball to Milwaukee with a 111 tie.
Parker again was terrific offensively. He actually was a bit more engaged back in Milwaukee on defense, but against Antetokounmpo no one active was likely to be much better. Parker is averaging 22.4 points and 9.6 rebounds his last five games with five of the last seven scoring at least 20. He's been the offensive force the Bulls envisioned when they signed him this summer with a smooth shot and clever court sense. Parker Wednesday again moved the ball well. But his greatest weakness offensively has been driving without a running start. He doesn't have great lift in traffic and often gets his shot blocked. It proved crucial this time.
Antetokounmpo then got a cross screen on the baseline and quickly drew Wendell Carter Jr's sixth foul, Carter muddling through 23 foul-filled minutes with six points and seven rebounds.
"Sometimes we all forget he's a 19-year-old kid,:" Hoiberg pointed out. "It's his first year out of college and he's going to continue growing and getting better. We're talking to him a lot to play through frustration and for the most part he's done that, keeping his spirits up, watching him; keep teaching and he'll grow. He's a smart kid with a high IQ. We feel he's had very good early part of his career. He's had foul trouble, but that will get cleaned up."
With that foul, the Bucks took a 113-111 lead with 36 seconds left as Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws in what was his only weakness, missing four of 10 before making those last two. Then Zach drove on an inbounds pass from Parker as Hoiberg used Parker extensively for those pass plays out of timeouts. Yes, Zach apparently heard everyone. LaVine circled around on a wheel motion from the left side, came off a Lopez screen and made a reverse layup to tie the game at 113 with 33.5 seconds left.
"Zach made a great play to the basket to give us a two-for-one opportunity," Hoiberg noted. "We just couldn't come up with the big rebound."
Robin actually made a good play to force his brother into that miss after Bledsoe got a lane from the wing and the Bulls closed and then recovered. The Bulls defense was active throughout the game with the exception of leaving Brogdon open for threes too often. He'd missed five of six his last game. But he made all six Wednesday. Still, it seemed the Bulls were about to get a last shot to win.
"We wanted to shut down the paint in the second half and I thought we did a good job of that," said Hoiberg. "Robin made a great vertical play on his brother; he missed the shot. The ball kind of took a funny hop and bounced up in the air. Bledsoe came in and made a great play, tipped it out on to Brogdon. He made the extra pass to Middleton on top. It's unfortunate we couldn't come up with the big stop."
Because it was a resilient effort the way the Bulls led Milwaukee by 22 points earlier this month and then lost by 19 in an amazing turnaround defeat. This time after yet another abundant first quarter with a 40-30 Bulls lead with LaVine and Parker both scoring in double figures, the Bucks took a 63-62 halftime lead.
This time the Bulls bucked up, highlighted in the third quarter by back to back Arcidiacono threes and fouled for three free throws which, of course, he made.
"Arch always plays the game as hard as he can, gives you everything he has and he's a very smart player," said Holiday. "I love playing with Arch. Intelligent, hard playing, tough nosed guy who comes out and gives you everything he has."
The Bucks, nevertheless, led 92-89 entering the fourth quarter in a game with 13 lead changes and 13 ties. And it was curiously Robin Lopez who did led the Bulls in fourth quarter scoring with an unusual assortment of hook shots, floaters and runners that not only no one knew he had in him, but no one ever likely had seen him even attempt.
"Sometimes you catch the ball in advantageous positions," offered Robin. "My teammates found me in great spots; got a give a lot of credit to them."
It was 109-107 Bulls after Lopez' fourth basket sandwiched around an Arcidiacono three, and I'd like to see that game plan that has that fourth quarter offense. Still, it succeeded and was an indication of better ball movement with 28 assists and more efficient play with just 11 turnovers while making nine steals.
And then just one rebound away.
"A lot of positives to take out of this game, that's for sure," said Hoiberg. "Justin made a great fake and had a good look. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't."
Heard that one before. Again, just oh so close.