At times this season the Chicago Bulls looked strong and quick enough to match the Milwaukee Bucks.
Tuesday night was not one of them.
The Bulls dropped their third game to a demoralizing 126–98 in several meetings with the Bucks, after a brief respite expressed concerns over their postseason viability. Monday’s win over the Toronto Raptors,
The Bulls are now 0-16 against the top three teams from each conference: the Miami Heat, Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers from the Eastern Conference and the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors from the Western Conference.
Although Monday’s win stopped the bleeding momentarily, the Bulls have fallen from the top spot in the east to fifth. And their hold on that position could slip with Saturday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they lead by one game.
After Tuesday’s loss, coaches Billy Donovan and DeMar DeRozan described the mood in the locker room with a single word: despair.
“At some point we get tired of kicking our butts like this and flip that switch of understanding that’s enough,” DeRozan said.
The defensive intensity that won the Raptors the night before evaporated in Milwaukee. The Bulls couldn’t match the Bucks in the paint – or on the 3-point line or in the midrange.
Any team visiting Milwaukee faces the imperative of Giannis Antetokounmpo. At this point in his career, a 25-point night from Antetokounmpo feels rather run-of-the-mill.
But the Bucks were completely on their way. Jew Holiday led them in scoring with 27 points, and five others finished in double digits: Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews, Serge Ibaka, Brooke Lopez and Grayson Allen.
The Bucks took their first stab in the opening quarter, when Coby White fouled Connaughton in a haphazard 3-point effort, taking the first three points of the final 15-0. From there, the Bulls often seemed to stray into transitions, missing assignments, and messy switches to allow for easier baskets.
Lopez swung two 3-pointers into the second quarter without a single defender. In the fourth, Allen retrieved a tipped ball and dribbled it from his backcourt to the Bulls rim without contest.
Although the Bulls pulled back briefly within 10 points in the third quarter, the Bucks punched back quickly with a 14-3 run to hold a 21-point lead by the end of the quarter. The Bulls did not score in the last three minutes of the third, leaving the Bucks in for a cruise.
“You have to be able to close the run,” Donovan said. “You’re not going to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. But it’s about how long those mistakes last and whether they end up being a run. There were too many runs in the game, some of which There were things we had the opportunity to control.”
When they attempted to check the paint, the Bulls were immediately intimidated by the massive presences of Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Bobby Portis. Instead of inviting contact, the Bulls ran away from it.
The Bulls did not go to the foul line until only 35.8 seconds were left in the first half. Instead, they set out to lift the jumpers, an approach that brought their offense to a standstill. The Bulls scored four fast-break points and took 13 free throws.
The Bulls are the second best 3-point shooting team in the league, with 37.2%. But his offense is not designed to live and die by the 3-point line. His accuracy stems from sensible shot selection – his 29.2 3-point attempts per game are among the lowest in the league.
Despite making 13 of 33 from 3-point range on Tuesday to maintain their scoring, the Bulls could not make an offense in the downhill, allowing the Bucks to completely control the rhythm of the game. By the end of the first half, the Bulls’ jump shots were filled with frustration.
“We just can’t move,” Caruso said. “When stuff doesn’t go our way, we have to figure out a way to stabilize the ship.”
The defeat marked the start of a five-game stretch on the road – a weak point for the Bulls, who are 16-20 away from the United center this season. They have lost seven of their last eight on the road.
For the rest of this road stint, only one team – the Cavaliers – is currently in playoff position. But that relative advantage may be offset by the Bulls’ inability to win on the road.
As the Bulls prepare their youth roster for later in the season, DeRozan said this four-game stretch will be the key to solidifying the team’s mindset.
DeRozan said, “Sometimes one needs to knock someone down to get hurt in the mouth and get upset, kind of fight and come out swinging.” “You have to have that mindset before you hit. You have to be the one who comes out swinging and shows it off and is desperate.
“We can’t wait the whole game where we look and we’re down 10, 15 points and try to rally back. Because it’s too hard for the position.”