Bulls lose to Bucks 123-104, despite a strong and energetic first half

You wonder how Charles Dickens might have described the Bulls 123-104 loss Friday to the Milwaukee Bucks during which the Bulls led 63-45 at halftime.

The epoch of incredulity? A season of light, a season of darkness? The spring of hope and the winter of despair? It sort of makes this Bulls season start to sound like the French Revolution.

Which didn't turn out too well.

"Obviously," said Justin Holiday, "it was a tale of two halves."

Certainly more so than any time in franchise history because after playing what coach Fred Hoiberg called their best half of the season, the Bulls played perhaps the worst second half in franchise history.

The Bulls equalled a franchise mark for the biggest deficit in a quarter, outscored in the third a shocking 46-17 and overall in the second half 78-41, which was the most the Bulls ever have been outscored in a second half. Only once before since 1954 in the NBA had a team that led by at least 18 at half lost by at least 18, according to the Bucks.

"It's unacceptable for us to go out there, have a 20-point lead and blow it that fast. It's upsetting," said Zach LaVine. "Just sucks. We're not getting matched up on defense. We're making mental errors. If the ball is not going in the hoop, we've still got to play defense and be tough at the same time, have the energy and mentality that we had when we were making shots. You're not going to make every shot, but you can still have that energy and that effort."

They had it half the time.

The Bulls dropped to 4-12 on the season and return to the United Center Saturday to play the Toronto Raptors.

The Bulls Friday were led by Jabari Parker with a season-high 21 points, but just four in the second half. Holiday had a season best 20 points with all six of his three pointers in the first half. Antonio Blakeney had 18 points with 13 in the fourth quarter and LaVine had 15. Wendell Carter Jr. had 12 points. The Bucks had three players score at least 23 led by Eric Bledsoe with 25 points.

It was as stunning a game for the Bulls as it was unusual as the Bulls dominated the 11-4 Bucks in a 40-27 first quarter, stumbled a bit, but then piled it on again in the second quarter. You could hear a deer fall in the new Fiserv Forum. The crescendo was a Holiday pull up three on a Bulls four-on-two fast break, the shot barely wrinkling the net going through for a 63-41 Bulls lead with 90 seconds left in the first half.

"That first half was the best we played all year," said Hoiberg. "We've had good first quarters and then to be able to withstand a little bit of a run in the second and then being able to extend the lead with a great defensive quarter in the second, we were doing everything right. We had 17 assists in that first half, six turnovers, playing the right way. Got the ball moving. It was flying out there and our guys were playing with a great swagger and a great confidence."

It was captivating with Parker in his regular season return to Milwaukee accurate to start with 10 points in the first four minutes as the Bulls led 19-6.

"Just ready, got off to a quick start," said the laconic Parker.

The Bulls were equally pithy in their response to the Bucks with Holiday dropping threes like they were going down a well. He and Parker combined for 24 first quarter points on six of seven threes. It was the second most points the Bulls scored in a quarter this season. Yes, they can do it, if in parts. It's the sustaining.

"I knew I was on," said Holiday. "I was just making shots. We felt good, we felt confident, everything was flowing. We felt like we were in a good spot."

Holiday added three more threes in the second quarter to make it six of six. Carter was getting LaVine passes in the slot and moving the ball for open shots as the Bucks swarmed LaVine as other teams have done. Though Milwaukee dropped off that aggressive tactic after halftime. But when the Bulls opened the third quarter with six straight empty possessions, a Parker airmailed three, a Holiday turnover and several missed jumpers among the detritus, the game changed within two minutes.

"We allowed them to get their confidence," Hoiberg noted. "They cut it to 10 right off the bat and now it's a game and we hung our heads a little and didn't do the same things that got us a lot of good looks in the first. We threw the first punch and kept that going for 24 minutes. For us, it's about sustaining the energy and playing the right way for 48 and we've yet to do that. When they threw that haymaker in the third quarter, we resorted back. We stopped communicating, we stopped guarding and this is as high powered team as there is in the league. We did an unbelievable job in the first half. But they outscored us by 29 points in the third quarter because of the breakdowns."

The Bulls still were hanging to a 74-67 lead midway through the third quarter even though you could see the end coming, almost like a wave about to swamp the shore. It wasn't there and most seemed calm, but you were anticipating the disaster. The Bucks hit the Bulls with a 15-0 run that included Khris Middleton driving down a lane that opened up like an archetypal. That made it 82-74 Milwaukee. Talk about your exodus.

"We fell apart defensively," Holiday agreed. "We didn't have the same energy, the same pop. I know some shots didn't fall, but defensively we didn't do our job."

Bledsoe then threw in a desperation three to end the third quarter with Milwaukee then leading 91-80. Within two minutes into the fourth quarter it was 100-82 and on the way to Tony Snell taunting the Bulls with a team high nine fourth quarter points. Talk about rubbing it in.

"We know we have this in us," said Holiday. "But how many times are we going to say we know we can do it, we know we can do it and not do it. At some point, we have to figure out a way to do it the whole game and get to that point. I'm sure we're all tired of being in this situation, but we have to find a way to do it consistently."