Bucks take down Bulls to clinch top seed in East
|Thursday, April 6, 2023, 7:41 AM- -|
MILWAUKEE - The last time the Chicago Bulls (38-42) faced the Milwaukee Bucks (58-22) this late in the season, they were playing in the 2022 Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bucks went on to win that series 4-1, but the Bulls gave them a great fight the first three games before running out of gas.
I know that was more than a year ago, but depending on how things pan out with the Play-in tournament, there is a chance these two could meet in the playoffs once again. If that is the case, the Bulls need to come ready to play, as things haven't gone as well as they would've against Milwaukee in recent seasons.
To their credit, the Bulls played the Bucks much tougher this season and managed to split the four meetings on the season. They took the first two, while Milwaukee took the last two, including their 105-92 victory on Wednesday. The Bulls deserve some credit, as they played a great game defensively and even overcame an early deficit to take a two-point lead into the break.
Chicago continued to battle as they trailed by three with 12 minutes to go before the Bucks put the clamps down in the fourth quarter. It was over the final 12 minutes when the Bulls offense went quiet as Milwaukee held them to 16 points in the final quarter and outscored them 26-16 to take a closely contested game and flip it into a one-sided affair.
Like last season in the playoffs, Nikola Vucevic has fared well against this Bucks team and did that again on Wednesday. From a field goal percentage side of things, Vucevic was under 40%, but he still finished with a team-high 21 points while pulling down 11 rebounds. He led the team and was the only player to score 20 points which poses a problem against this Bucks team.
Zach Lavine was also the only other starter to land in double figures and went through a 5-17 night shooting to finish with 13 points, but he did come away with seven assists. To the Bucks credit, they keyed in on Demar DeRozan and took him out of the game early, as he was held to eight points. Throw in six points from Patrick Williams and eight from Patrick Beverley, and the Bulls starting five did very little against a great Bucks defense.
With Chicago's starting lineup struggling to score, they would need the bench to come up huge for them to have a chance. Coby White did his part to answer the call and finished with 14 points which was good for second on the team. You also had eight points from Derrick Jones Jr and Ayo Dosunmu, but that was nowhere near enough for Chicago to hang with the Best team in the league.
Although this was an impressive win, it wasn't a dominating win, as the Bucks were missing two critical pieces in this game. Two became three as Khris Middleton went down with an injury in the first half and didn't return. To see the Bucks not only handle Chicago in his absence, but to play the defense they did is all that more impressive, as they would not let this one get away.
Typically, the Bucks offense runs through Giannis, but without him, in the lineup, the Bucks needed others to shoulder the load. Enter Bobby Portis, who has dominated the Bulls over his career. The former Bull has always saved his best games for when he faces this team, and with 27 points and 13 rebounds, he delivered a big game yet again.
Another player often overlooked and tends to have great games against Chicago is Brook Lopez, who was up to his old tricks once again. Not only did he pick up 26 points, but he did so relatively easily as he failed to hit a three-pointer. You also had Jrue Holiday coming through with a massive game, as his 20 points gave Milwaukee three 20-point scorers, while his 15 assists gave the offense the jumpstart they were looking for, especially in the second half.
If three 20-point scorers were not enough, why not make it four double-digit scorers as Jevon Carter added 16 points? Carter has been a pleasant surprise for the Bucks this season, as his ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from distance has helped the Bucks this season.
With the loss, the Bulls are guaranteed to finish with a losing record, but on the bright side, there will be playoff basketball for a second straight season. The Bulls return to the floor Friday for their final road contest of the season when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.