Bulls lose to Bucks in embarrassing fashion in Game 3 home blowout
Derrick Jones Jr. replaced Patrick Williams four minutes into the second half when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for the Bulls on Friday night.
Williams was miserable, with an accumulation of missed shots and zero marks. The Bulls trailed by 26 points. Bulls coach Billy Donovan had to do something. Still, on the first play out of timeout, Jones missed a base play. All he had to do was weave a pass to DeMar DeRozan as he cowered on a pin-down screen. Only Jones casually threw a sneaky, left-handed pass that was too low and squirted out of bounds just past the Bulls bench.
The streak epitomized how unequivocally sloppy the Bulls were throughout their 111-81 home loss to Milwaukee. The ensuing defensive possession by the Bulls only underscored an embarrassing night that started festive — the Bulls’ first home playoff game since April 28, 2017 — and ended as the biggest margin of loss for a home playoff game in franchise history.
Forty-one seconds later, the Bucks showed the Bulls how to properly execute a set play. Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, working on the left from the top of the arc, initiated a dribble pass with Wesley Matthews. Arrived at the right place, Matthews recovers the ball behind Antetokounmpo. Neither Zach LaVine nor Jones attempted to fight around Antetokoumpo’s body to challenge Matthews’ Open 3.
Splash. Match in twenty-nine points. The momentum of the series is ruined.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 111, Bulls 81
That wasn’t the effort the Bulls had in mind when they came home from Milwaukee in possession of an unlikely road split. They played a great game from start to finish in Game 2, showing the right frame of mind while outscoring the Bucks at home. Two nights later, the Bulls thought they would benefit from Bucks losing guard Khris Middleton, who was ruled out the rest of the series with an MCL sprain.
But the Bulls never fought back and are now trailing, 2-1, in the series. Their biggest lead was one point, a negligible advantage they lost for good when the Bucks took a 5-3 lead. Chicago trailed for the final 45 minutes, 55 seconds and up to 37 points. As the scoreline grew increasingly out of proportion, the Bulls were again booed by their home fans on several occasions in the first half. It was reminiscent of the regular season home finale, when Charlotte also erected a 37-point cushion, causing boo-birds.
“They responded like they should have,” DeRozan said of the Bucks, though he could easily have referred to the boos. “Give them credit. We didn’t go out and compete like we should have. And this is a lesson for us. That’s not an excuse. We have to go out there and compete better.
Unforced errors such as Jones’ turnover after the timeout hurt the Bulls at times. They jumped and dropped passes at multiple points and never seemed in sync offensively. They threw too many jumps, seemed to lack offensive creativity and, worst of all, were awfully accurate.
For the second time in the series, the Bulls shot less than 40%. During the three quarters, Chicago made only 37% of shots. Williams was the only Bulls starter to appear in the totally uncompetitive fourth quarter when the Bucks’ lead never dipped below 30 points. Williams needed the reps. After an encouraging Game 2 in which Donovan praised him for being more decisive, Williams managed a point in 30 minutes. Assertiveness and decisiveness were not his problems this time around. Accuracy was. He went 0 of 9 from the field and missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Williams added just four rebounds, an assist, two steals and a blocked shot.
Williams was far from the only culprit. That night, he turned out to be the face of Chicago’s frustration. DeRozan, after his 41 career playoff points in Game 2, scored just 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Nikola Vučević had 19 points on 17 shooting, going 3-of-9 to 3-point range. LaVine only managed 15 points on 6 of 13 shooting.
From top to bottom of the stat sheet, the Bulls have been outplayed.
Quick break points: Bucks 15, Bulls 5.
Points in the paint: Bucks 46, Bulls 30.
Second chance points: Bucks 11, Bulls 6.
But nothing defined Game 3 more than the 3-point differential, statistically and stylistically. This is a category that we knew would be extremely important. The Bucks ranked fifth in 3-point attempts (38.4) per game and percentage in the regular season (36.6). The Bulls ranked last in attempts, and after the All-Star break, they averaged 10 fewer attempts (26.6) than the Bucks while ranking 21st in percentage (34.8).
It’s a losing proposition based purely on percentages, but the Bucks’ defensive scheme allows for 3-point shots while closing the paint. And when paired with the Game 3 aesthetic, the Bulls’ greatest weakness against the Bucks was revealed. The effective perimeter-shooting Bucks enjoyed their best shooting performance of the series, despite the insignificant final 12 minutes. When the outcome was still somewhat in doubt, the Bucks shot 13 of 31 from 3-point range. The Bulls were 9 of 29 at this same point.
“They were the aggressor tonight,” Donovan said. “The difference, at least at the start, is that they knocked down a few shots. We struggled to shoot the ball. In Game 1, both teams struggled to shoot, and in Game 2, both teams shot the ball much better. Tonight was a night where they shot the ball much better than us. And I thought we lost our way when we struggled to score and take shots.
Although the Bulls again missed a bunch of open looks, the Bucks shooters had no trouble capitalizing on any burst of daylight. Bobby Portis started in place of Middleton, coming back from a right eye abrasion, to haunt the franchise that drafted him. He scored 18 points, making 4 of 8 3s. Grayson Allen’s performance added insult to injury to Bulls fans. He finished with a playoff career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting with six rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Allen, public enemy No. 1 in Chicago after his flagrant foul on Alex Caruso in January, made 5 of 7 3-pointers.
“He knocked down big punches,” LaVine said of Allen. “He was driving the ball, getting and-1s. They did a good job rotating us. He was the guy we were leaving, and I think we’re going to have to look into that if he’s going to shoot the ball that way.
The Bulls could also be on their feet to examine their offensive process. Too often, as has been the case all season, their offense was too dependent on a simple ball screen and players made read and react decisions. It works for the Bulls when they disrupt the defense, steal and force turnovers that boost transition opportunities and lessen the need for a perfect half-court offense.
Without a more structured style, the Bulls are often forced to break down their one-on-one defenders after initial action fails. It’s a nightmarish result that then cuts the score to DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević pick-and-pop 3s.
It lacked meaningful drives to the basket to pressure the Bucks. When the Bulls did, the size of Milwaukee’s frontcourt made finishing a chore.
“I thought we were downhill,” Donovan said. “I think what happened is they really sent a lot of people over the edge. And I thought sometimes when (Brook) Lopez is there, Giannis is there, those guys are hard to finish. You have to make the extra pass. And you have to be able to take open 3s.
On a night the Bulls entered Game 3 with everything going on, their season-long shooting limits became the difference we’ve been waiting for at the start of this first-round game. These limitations shaped the first three games and might now dictate the complexion of this series.
Chicago must find a way to back down…and fast. Game 4 is at noon Sunday.
“You have to make shots,” LaVine said. “It’s a failed or caught up league at some point. You can do what you can on defense, but we go to the offensive side, we have to shoot – me, Vooch, DeMar. We also have to do our job.
(Photo by Alex Caruso: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)