The Bulls guards and perimeter players Saturday bucked the early trend and then put behind them a woeful first half for an energetic finish for a 107-86 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Isaiah Canaan led the Bulls Saturday with 25 points. Doug McDermott added 22 as the pair combined for nine of 16 threes. The Bulls were 13 of 30 overall on threes. Nikola Mirotic added 14 points and Jerian Grant 13 points and seven assists. The Bulls went to 3-2 in the preseason with the victory. They have two games remaining.
It was something of a tryout camp for the roster Saturday with Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson not playing. Rondo, however, did make the trip to Milwaukee with the team.
The Bulls started Paul Zipser, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, Grant and Canaan and got run out early, trailing 32-19 after one quarter and 53-31 late in the second quarter. They trailed 60-43 at halftime with the Bucks led by Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo mounting a 15-0 halftime lead in fast break points and 8-1 in second chance points. Coach Fred Hoiberg had said pregame with the regulars out it would be a chance for guys to work their way up in the rotation. Or down.
“First half it was like some guys didn’t even want to be out there,” said Hoiberg. “We were turning the ball over; they outscored us 15-0 in transition. They dominated the game and then the second half it’s amazing when you come out with a defensive mentality your offense tends to pick up. It was disappointing; we got on them pretty good at halftime and they responded.”
The Bulls to open the third quarter were spurred by a follow slam dunk by Felicio on a Zipser miss and then a Felicio three-point play. Then Grant continued off a good close to Friday’s game with a pair of driving scores.
“I could tell coming out of the locker room the first couple of possessions it was a completely different vibe from our guys,” said Hoiberg. “Went out and played with energy. Cris’ tip dunk early in that half really ignited us, got us energized. I thought Jerian was terrific all night with his pace getting the ball down the floor. He did a good job setting some drag screens. Obviously, we knocked down some shots. I’ve been happy with Jerian the last two games, the way he played in the fourth quarter (Friday) and carried that over. I thought in the first half he was the one guy trying to be aggressive. In the second half, he was good getting us into early offense, getting our flow and pace and getting the ball up the floor.”
Then it was McDermott breaking out of a bit of a preseason slump and Canaan with another good game and highlight plus/minus rating, this time plus-31.
And it was a celebration of sorts for McDermott, who seemed to be the star of everything no one has seen. Players and coaches have been raving about his practice play, shooting and driving the ball with competent defense. It hadn’t translated to games until Saturday as the Bulls outscored the Bucks 64-26 in the second half, 37-7 in the fourth quarter. Those shooters with Robin Lopez’ rugged screening and defense led to the amazing 45-point turnaround.
“I got the shots first off that I’m comfortable with,” said McDermott. “I kind of knew when they were coming. Part of it, it’s been a long camp and the legs are heavy in general. So it’s been a little rusty out there for the first few games, but tonight just really clicked; missed my first two, but just kept shooting. That’s what shooters do; you miss a few you can’t stop shooting. Just kind of getting used to the game atmosphere was good to see a couple go in tonight; all that hard work in practice is paying off. You put me, Isaiah and Niko out there, they have to make a choice. Someone is going to be open if you move the ball and that’s what we saw. Isaiah had it rolling and so did Niko and it’s a good group to play with and spread the floor.
“Isaiah plays freely and is going to knock down open shots and is a sneaky good defender,” McDermott added. “He’s not afraid to put his body in there. In the past we would have hung our heads. Coach Hoiberg got after us at halftime and we responded. I think Felicio’s dunk got us all hyped about coming back and getting a win for coach Fred on his birthday.”