The Chicago Bulls got chewed up and spit out by the Milwaukee Bucks for a number of reasons, most of which was of their own doing, but the free-throw discrepancy was one of the most glaring.
While the Bulls may have ended up shooting 13 free throw attempts to the Bucks’ 20 on Tuesday night, the bulk of those attempts for Chicago came with the outcome already decided. Milwaukee used their downhill gusto to help earn themselves an insurmountable lead in the first half, going 8-11 from the charity stripe in the first two quarters. How many free throws did the Bulls attempt over that span? Two. And those two didn’t come until 35.8 seconds were left in the second frame.
The Bulls could have been better about prioritizing shots at the rim. Perhaps their tired legs from an emotional win less than 24 hours before kept them from successfully attacking this Bucks defense from the jump. We also have to keep in mind that Milwaukee does allow the 6th-fewest free-throw attempts per game. Still, the lack of any whistle for DeMar DeRozan came as a surprise. And that isn’t an exaggeration. Last night’s game was the first in which DeRozan didn’t attempt a single free throw this season. In fact, it’s only the second time since the beginning of February 2021 (when he was with the Spurs) that he didn’t get to the free-throw line.
“That was my whole frustration,” DeRozan told reporters after the 126-98 loss. “Without a doubt I got hit a few times on a couple of jump shots, and the same old thing over and over … From my opinion, I get paid to play at a high level; refs get paid to ref at a high level. And consistently hearing you missed something, you missed something is unacceptable.”
Again, the refs didn’t cost the Bulls this game last night, but they also didn’t do their job. As a player who has averaged the 5th-most free throws per game in the NBA and has averaged 7.4 attempts per game over the last 9 seasons, I think it’s safe to assume DeRozan knows what he’s talking about.
Is it possible he had an off-night? Absolutely, and we need to look no further than his inefficient 10-23 showing to see that he did. But it was also a head-scratching showing from the referees, and head coach Billy Donovan knows it too.
“The thing that was amazing to me was that there were only two defensive fouls called against them in 24 minutes. I’ve never heard of that. I’ve never seen that before ever,” Donovan said. “I feel like we were trying to go downhill, I feel like we were trying to get to the basket. The free-throw discrepancy, certainly in the first half created a little bit of a hole for us.”
Nobody is making excuses, as both Donovan and DeRozan went on to speak plenty about where this team needs to improve. However, it is undeniably frustrating when you can feel the impact the refs have on the game.
If there is any lesson to take away from this unbalanced whistle, it would be this: Don’t let the frustration consume you. The refs will likely let a lot of things go in the playoffs, and the Bulls should use this game as an example of things that may not fall in their favor moving forward. If the call aren’t coming their way, they have to find a way to adjust.