Bulls fall in OT to Bucks, DeRozan and White combine for 74 points

DeMar DeRozan was attempting to remain philosophical Monday following the Bulls 133-129 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that ended the Bulls near two-year best four-game winning streak.

“We’ve come together,” DeRozan was saying after his historic game, 41 points and 11 assists, the first such with those milestones since Michael Jordan 30 years ago. “We dropped this one tonight, it was tough. But we weren’t going to win the next 60 games in a row.”

What! That wasn’t the sense we were getting, at least reading the social media posts. And then when DeRozan sent the game into overtime with a runner with 3.7 seconds left in regulation. And then the Bulls taking their first lead of the game a few seconds into overtime on a Torrey Craig free throw.

Here come the Bulls!

But this time unlike just over a week ago when the Bulls stunned the Bucks in overtime in the United Center, it was lately staggering Milwaukee with the crucial overtime plays especially on defense, a Brook Lopez block on Coby White, Damian Lillard with a block on Patrick Williams and then the bigger Bucks ramming their way to the free throw line behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds with 14-of-18 free throws.

“He (Giannis) forces his way downhill, got to the free throw line, got layups,” DeRozan noticed. “It’s tough. When he’s doing that you got shooters out there, you’ve got Dame (Lillard), so you kind of have to pick your poison. We still gave ourselves a chance and opportunity to win the game. Just missed a lot of easy shots that could have went our way and changed the dynamic of the game.”

DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 41 points against the Bucks Monday night.

The Bulls did display their acquired resilience to the end again, drawing within 130-127 on a Williams driving dunk off DeRozan’s 11th assist with 25.4 seconds left. DeRozan added a driving dunk after Khris Middleton split a pair of free throws to get within a basket with 12.8 seconds left in the overtime. But Lillard, who missed a clutch free threw late in regulation that gave DeRozan a chance to tie the game without seeking out a three as the Bulls had to do against the Bucks last week, this time made both free throws to effectively end the game before a last White three point attempt.

That one missed, but few others did as White continued his remarkable run with a season-high 33 points and 6-of-10 threes. White is averaging 26 points the last five games and in the last 10 games 22.9 per game and 53% on threes to move into the top five in the NBA in three pointers made. There apparently is not an award for it — and if there were we assume LeBron James would have it and a banner in his arena — but White certainly would be the league’s Most Improved Player the last month.

“Amazing, amazing, amazing,” DeRozan with apparent amazement said about teammate White. “He can do more, too. He can do more. The dude is amazing.

“I’m just happy people are starting to see how talented and how much of a competitor he is,” DeRozan continued. “To see his growth, to see how much he asks questions and is humble about his growth, it’s amazing. It’s amazing to be his teammate and see the things he does.”

Call DeMar amazed.

Call Coby, as usual, non-plussed.

“I’m just hoopin’,” White offered. “At the end of the day, I feel like the start of the season. The only difference is between now and back then, one is my level of comfort I have in the offense, and two I didn’t hit shots the beginning of the year. That’s really the only difference. I feel like I was doing a lot of other things at the beginning of the year. I just didn’t hit as many shots as I wanted to. I don’t know how many games (lately) I’ve been hitting shots.”

Editors note: Often

“One of the other differences is me being more comfortable in the offense and leading the team,” said White, who has taken up the scoring slack from the injury absence of Zach LaVine.  “I’ll continue to grow in that area, but I have a long way to go. So I’ll continue to work at it every day. It’s about wins and losses and tonight we came up a little bit short. So we’ve got another good team tomorrow, the defending champs, and we’ve got to get ready for that one.

“Approach each game the same way and try to stay consistent in the way I prepare for games, and that’s it,” reiterated White. “I just go out there and hoop.”

It’s also been something to treasure with White suddenly morphing into one of the most accurate and prolific three-point shooters in the NBA, the 6-foot-4 guard suddenly oozing with as much confidence as joy in the game. White always seemed to carry himself with an innocent insouciance even amidst the uncertainty of his role and status with the team. He was doubted as a starter, as a facilitator, a scorer. He was injured, skipped over for a raise, left an observer at times as others auditioned for his spot. He never wavered or stopped smiling; and now the NBA is beginning to pay close attention.

“They were telling everybody (late in the game) to stay home (not help off White). They were trying to funnel everything into Brook and let him clean it up,” White related about the Bucks late defensive strategy that limited him in overtime. “They weren’t shifting as much as they were in the first four quarters. So you have to make plays off the bounce and we got some good looks; they just didn’t fall. That’s how the game goes sometimes.”

Coby White put up a season-high 33 points Monday night in Milwaukee.

And this time there were no miracles for the Bulls, who dropped to 9-15.

Perhaps not coincidently miracle (shot)maker Alex Caruso was out with a sprained ankle to join LaVine on the enthusiastic bench.

But it was also the bench where the Bulls staggered as the Bucks, their reserves singled out for criticism in their in-season tournament loss, responded with a 36-26 edge over the Bulls. Former Bull Bobby Portis, who was reported to have called out the team after that loss, had 17 points after a lackluster effort against the Bulls last week mostly shooting jumpers. This time the bright-eyed Portis saw the paint and stayed there in taking the Bulls into numerous mismatches.

The Bucks are a bigger team whom the Bulls badly out-rebounded last week. Not this time. The Bulls had a slight rebounding advantage that was essentially even because Andre Drummond with 11 of his 16 rebounds on the offensive boards repeatedly retrieved his own misses and then often missed again.

The Bulls had a reputable 25 assists, but those 11 were from DeRozan, who has double-figure assists in three of the last four games. But there are different kinds of assists. DeRozan’s usually come off when he is stopped and trapped, and he did frequently find shooters for threes. Though DeRozan is not a classic facilitator who is looking for a player to finish like a quarterback leading a receiver. So while the Bulls did swing the ball in the half court, it wasn’t with quite the purpose as they’ve shown in some recent games.

Though coming out of timeouts and late in regulation when the Bulls fell behind 117-112 with about a minute left, it was clutch DeRozan with the last four Bulls points after Williams’ tip dunk of his own miss after rebounding a DeRozan miss than gave the Bulls that overtime chance.

“Just trying to find the guys,” DeRozan said about his recent assists surge. “They do a hell of a job trusting me when I have the ball. I just try to find them and tried to manipulate the offense the best I could.

“We’ve come together,” said DeRozan. “We dropped this one tonight; it was tough. We understand it’s all about the way you compete. We lost, but we all competed. Couple of calls didn’t go our way. Just have another challenge and face another good team (Tuesday against Denver).”

Williams also continued his spirited play with 15 points and Nikola Vučević had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Drummond had nine points with those 16 rebounds but missed 9-of-12 shots, mostly putbacks. Lillard again against the Bulls only seemed marginally interested shooting 3-of-17. But Middleton had 13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. The Bulls matched the Bucks each making 15 threes, but the Bucks shot 51% overall as the Bulls sold out on defense to constantly trap and double team Giannis. The result too often was the Bucks with giant mismatches inside for easy layups and dunks. The Bucks thus had 34 assists while in scramble mode so often the Bulls were able to disrupt enough for only three steals. The Bulls had just six turnovers.

That leaky Bulls defense needed a plumber right from the start as the Bucks had a double-digit lead barely five minutes into the game and 37-32 after one with the Bulls, however, constantly firing back. Giannis obviously is a remarkable athlete, but in Lillard, Middleton and Lopez the Bucks are modeling combat boots on defense. White blew by Lillard for a score early, and later in the game even left Giannis playing the turnstile to Coby’s Ventra card.

DeRozan was offensively determined this game and got the Bulls tied with a spree to begin the second quarter. Not quite Jordan, but he added his name to Jordan’s 40/10 franchise history which Jordan did nine times.

Nikola Vučević notched his 12th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Bucks.

“Anything with Michael Jordan in it is a hell of an accomplishment,” DeRozan acknowledged. “I never take none of that stuff for granted.”

Neither did Milwaukee, which shot back ahead with a flurry of threes, several from unknown — certainly to me, though I don’t get Northern Iowa games on my cable — reserve AJ Green, who made 4-of-6 threes in the game and three in the second quarter as the Bucks shot out to a lead that would be 14 late in the first half. The Bulls got back within 74-65 on a long one from White to end the half.

“If I’m open I shoot it, if not I just try to get downhill and make the right play,” said White.

Shoot Coby, shoot. See Coby shoot.

The Bulls made some brilliant efforts in the third quarter, like a diving save going out of bounds by DeRozan for a White three, and DeRozan shrugging off the pressure to find Jevon Carter for a 30-foot three to bring the Bulls within 91-89 entering the fourth quarter,

But almost like the Bucks were taunting the Bulls, which they weren’t, every time the Bulls were about to go ahead, Milwaukee sped off. White’s three tied the game with nine minutes left, but then Giannis followed with his rubber man driving score. Yes, Mister Fantastic, though no more fantastic four there in Milwaukee anymore.

Then it seemed every time the Bulls had a chance to take a lead, well, they didn’t. Dalen Terry having a rare and effective late-game stretch missed a three with the Bulls trailing by two with eight minutes left. Drummond then failed to put back his misses twice before the Bucks got a fast break dunk. The Bulls do go to the offensive boards more now with Drummond and Torrey Craig, but the Bucks took advantage to double up the Bulls in fast break points.

Craig missed a three for a lead, DeRozan missed a 10-footer for a tie with two minutes left in regulation, Vučević missed a drive and a runner a bit earlier also trailing by two. Though it wasn’t all bad luck as the Bulls got possession twice in overtime when it seemed clear that balls went off them. But the Bucks were out of challenges.

So the Bulls did challenge, and they challenged throughout.

"We fought really hard, but every time we needed that little play, come up with a loose ball, come up with a rebound, those are the plays we needed to get over that hump and win the game, but we didn’t come down with them,” said White. “And that was the difference. I feel we handled their runs well when they went up double digits or eight or nine, made a run and cut it, tied the game and took the lead (in overtime). I felt we kept competing to the end. But you can’t win them all.”

Just when we thought they just might.

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