Coming off a 93-86 loss in Game 1, the Chicago Bulls needed to do a total 180 to have a shot to steal the second contest on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks. They would need to have more options than relying on DeMar DeRozan to carry the team. While the All-Star guard upped his game, an overall sense of resiliency helped the Bulls record a 114-110 victory to send the series back to Chicago tied at one.
Out of the gate, the Bulls showed they were a new team. There was a glare in their eyes as if a fire was lit under them. Chicago started hot with a 9-0 run. Nikola Vucevic was feeling it, hitting on the pick-and-pop. Zach LaVine attacked the basket as though his knee issues were non-existent. And of course, DeMar DeRozan finally found his stride, as he had promised.
While the offense was firing on all cylinders, the defense still allowed up open threes to shooters such as Wesley Matthews. A fast-paced first quarter saw the Bulls and Bucks trading blows. This high-tempo style favored Milwaukee, leading to concern that Chicago wouldn’t keep it up.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Bucks forward Bobby Portis got elbowed in the eye and left the game. That cut on his eye proved too intrusive and he didn’t return to game action. It was a lucky break for the Bulls as the Bucks had lost one of their most relentless rebounders.
At halftime, the Bulls were shooting 51.1% from the field and a ridiculous 57.1% from three. Chicago generated open looks through the pick-and-roll featuring Vucevic, who converted on several three-point looks. The Bucks were playing well but had 10 turnovers that slowed their recovery from an early deficit.
The Bucks came out of the half with more energy and Khris Middleton found his place. After recording just three points in the first half, he scored 13 in the third quarter. The Bucks further adjusted by putting Giannis Antetokounmpo at the 5-position. Doing so put Vucevic in a difficult spot on both defense and offense. Giannis has the size to guard the Bulls’ big on defense but proves too quick on offense for Vucevic to reciprocate.
With 1:30 left in the third, Middleton hit an and-1 three-pointer that brought the Bucks even closer. The Fiserv Forum erupted with cheers and the momentum shifted in the building. The Bulls’ 18-point had shrunk to three just before the end of the quarter.
But this swing didn’t discourage the Bulls. DeMar DeRozan kept finding his spots at the elbow. Vucevic was even taking Giannis in the post and fooling him with fades. With the help of a few Milwaukee turnovers, Chicago had extended their lead back to 16 just after the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
At the seven-minute mark, Vucevic committed his fifth foul forcing him to the bench. Billy Donovan had to go with a lineup of Javonte Green, Patrick Williams, and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt. The Bulls gave up some easy backpedaling buckets to Giannis. Then, Middleton left the game at the 6:30 mark as banging his knee earlier in the fourth caused soreness. At the 5:50 mark, Donovan made a gutsy call to bring Vucevic back in due to DeRozan drawing so many double teams.
LaVine and Vucevic hit threes to boost the Bulls but the Bucks continued punching back. Giannis got to the free-throw line and Brook Lopez hit an and-1 layup to get the game within a possession. With the Bulls on the ropes, they turned to their MVP DeMar DeRozan. He drove and hit an incredible acrobatic shot to suck the air out of Milwaukee.
Alex Caruso drew a late charge against Giannis to seal the deal, and the Bulls had stolen one in Cream City.
Key Factors In Bulls Win
The Chicago Bulls totally reversed what they had done in Game 1. The big three of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic finished with 20, 41, and 24, respectively. Chicago got hot from behind the arc, hitting 49.4% from three compared to the Bucks’ 38.9%.
The free-throw line was an area where the Bulls absolutely throttled Milwaukee. The visitors shot 14-15 while the Bucks were 20-31. Giannis alone was 11-18 from the charity stripe, a big reason why the Bucks couldn’t catch up.
While the turnovers were almost even at 13 to 15, the Bucks’ turnovers came at times when they were gaining momentum. Those errors deflated any offensive build-up they had previously generated.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Bulls should expect the Bucks to come out swinging hard at the United Center in Game 3 on Friday. With how vital Vucevic was to Chicago’s success, expect the Bucks to attack him by slashing with the ball. Additionally, the Bulls should prepare for Bobby Portis to be back in the mix.
To generate a winning streak, the Bulls will need to get the same production out of their big three. The pick-and-roll with Vucevic opened up the offense, so Billy Donovan needs to stick with it. The Bulls can improve on some of their rotations that resulted in open threes for Milwaukee.
But one thing is certain. Playing their first home playoff game since 2017, the Chicago Bulls will have the United Center rocking on Friday. Game 3 tips off at 7:30 PM CT and the game will air on ABC and NBC Sports Chicago.
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