Two things are true on this warm Saturday afternoon: (1) Grayson Allen remains a questionable basketball player, and (2) the Bulls-Bucks rivalry has been restored.
The energy inside the United Center, the smack-talking across the interweb, and the chippiness on the floor created a sense of beef Bulls fans arguably haven’t felt since the Bulls-Heat days of the early 2010s. Sure, this may have been the second-straight loss to the defending national champions, but that doesn’t necessarily take away from how fun the build-up to last night’s 48 minutes turned out to be.
Also, I’ll take my punches from Bucks lovers after all my comments. I can take it. However, I do want them to know, it’s not going to stop … because that’s what a rivalry is all about!
• Let’s start with the positives from last night’s game. Not only did the Bulls lose by just 6 points, but they held the lead for a good chunk of the second half. They outshot Milwaukee from both the field and behind the arc, and they also forced Giannis and Co. into 14 turnovers. No one can deny this group played hard until the final buzzer, especially when we also consider it was the backend of a back-to-back. So, at the end of the day, they deserve a tip of the cap for that high-energy effort, and I was happy to see head coach Billy Donovan give them one after the game:
“It was much better than the last couple of games, but that’s just the starting point in terms of what you have to do,” Donovan told Bulls dot com. “I thought we really competed and were physical and tried to match them as well as we could. We had some breakdowns, but overall I thought the guys played hard and competed and battled for the entire game.”
• I don’t want to play a game of “what if,” but it’s hard not to think a fully healthy Bulls team might pull off that win. I know, I know, mentioning that doesn’t change the fact Chicago now sits 4th in the conference in the thick of a four-game skid. However, it’s at least worth a thought when we consider two more meetings with the Bucks await. And who’s to say the Bulls don’t meet Milwaukee in the playoffs? All I’m saying is the on-ball defense of Alex Caruso, the 3-point shooting of Lonzo Ball, and the playmaking IQ off both could have made a difference in the final few possessions. I especially can’t help but think about how this backcourt duo’s defense probably prevents Jrue Holiday from winning that game with a 16-point 4th quarter. Ugh.
• Still, as Donovan has mentioned time and again, those two players will not single-handedly fix the Bulls’ fouling and offensive rebounding problem. One night after allowing seven offensive rebounds in the 4th quarter … the Bulls allowed seven offensive rebounds in the 4th quarter. One night after allowing the Hawks to shoot 28 free throws to their 7 … the Bulls allowed the Bucks to shoot 33 free throws to their 11. The Bulls can outshoot opponents all they want, but playoff basketball is going to bring a harsh reality if they continue to fork over this many free points.
• The clip below is a perfect example of how this Bulls team continues to shoot themselves in the foot. What should your reaction be when Giannis Antetokounmpo chucks up a 3-pointer at the top of the key? Box out and get ready for the long rebound. What did Zach LaVine do? He tried to break out in transition the moment the ball hit the back of the rim, leaving Jrue Holiday untouched to grab the offensive rebound and nail the easy layup. Watch as Tristan Thompson starts barking at LaVine for his poor judgment:
Probably a good idea to finish the defensive possession first before running a lane. pic.twitter.com/BzUs4aQT33
— Mark K (@mkhoops) March 5, 2022
• I don’t care if it’s the first quarter, those are the possessions that come back to bite you in the butt in a close game. Those are also the possessions Donovan was speaking about during his no “margin for error” speech on Thursday night. The Bulls simply need to play smarter across the board, and their inability to do so is part of the reason they hold an abysmal 1-13 record against the top-7 teams in the NBA. Whether it be the Heat or the 76ers or the Warriors or the Bucks, these are all teams that have the kind of discipline that comes with experience and playoff heartbreak. It’s nearly impossible to manufacture that, and the Bulls are living proof.
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 4, 2022
• I tend to think this is also why Arturas Karnisovas made sure to mention teams like the Bucks and 76ers during his interview on 670 The Score earlier this year. As I wrote about at the time, he clearly wants this core to marinate. Karnisovas’ vision extends past this season, and while that isn’t a reason to jump off this year’s bandwagon, it should be something we keep in mind as we watch this team go through adversity.
• DeMar DeRozan knows what I’m talking about …
“To be a team like the Milwaukee Bucks that won a championship, they had to go through plenty of growing pains as well until they got to their goal. And we got to take these growing pains under the chin and understand that, if you really want it, you got to get back up on your feet when you get knocked down. And how hard it is to compete in this league and play every single night. Not every couple games, not just verse the bad teams, but competing against the good teams. We got to take on that challenge. It’s good for us to get and see how hard it really is to win in this league,” DeRozan told reporters.
• I think we can all understand why the Bulls started the two-big lineup against the Antetokounmpo-Portis frontcourt, but that doesn’t mean it was the right idea. Vucevic simply isn’t a power forward. Maybe Donovan will figure out a way to make this pairing work in shorter stints, but forcing Vucevic to play out of position only draws on one of his strengths (3-point shooting). Otherwise, the Bulls are forcing one of the better defensive rebounders to play away from the rim while also choosing not to use his interior-passing ability, which happens to be of his best attributes. I’ll probably have to dive deeper into this if Donovan keeps it up, but I don’t like the early returns at all, especially if you’re not even winning the rebounding battle!
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• Hey, at least this was fun …
ROOKIE ➡️ SUPERSTAR
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 5, 2022
• Mobile registration is back, folks!
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— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 5, 2022