By the end of the first quarter, I was in a metaphorical fetal position, groaning in despair. The Chicago Bulls started the game in arguably the worst possible way, allowing a 9-0 run to eventually turn into a 34-21 deficit heading into the 2nd quarter. Were the Bucks about to cruise in the exact fashion we all feared … or were the Bulls just trying to get comfortable in a new environment?
While I certainly thought it was the former, I was elated to quickly find out it was the latter. This collectively inexperienced group was punched in the month in the opening frame, but they punched back in a way we weren’t sure was possible. An away crowd plenty packed with Bulls fans started to make themselves heard inside the Fiserv Forum after that, which only made the majority of Bucks fans scream that much louder. Chicago held Milwaukee to just 17 points in the 2nd quarter, and I finally got that long-awaited feeling back: The Chicago Bulls are in the playoffs.
• I think I have to start there. Sitting in the arena last night with a pit in my stomach was some of the most fun I’ve had watching basketball in a while. Trust me, I know the game itself was as ugly as can be, but that didn’t stop a jam-packed house from hanging on every single basket. No matter which team scored in the final two quarters, you would have thought it was the go-ahead dagger. The Bulls knew it, the Bucks knew it, and the crowd knew it: Every possession mattered. Of course, that doesn’t mean mistakes weren’t made (many were on both sides), but it was a refreshing sight to see, especially for a Bulls team that has struggled time and again to stay locked in.
“We just didn’t give up,” LaVine said after the game. “I think before early on there were certain points where we were hanging our head. We had good talk, everyone was encouraging each other.”
• Indeed, while I will have plenty to say in other posts about the game itself over the next two days, I find this to be arguably the biggest takeaway from Game 1. The Bulls looked like a defeated team since the All-Star break. They lost to teams like the Pelicans, Hornets, and Knicks in low-effort, frustration-fueled games. We didn’t see any of that last night, and I guess that is thanks to the Bulls’ heavily harping on this topic during their playoff preparation.
“I mean there has been conversations all week about just staying together,” DeRozan said. “There are going to be parts of the game where it’s going to get hectic, they going to hit some shots, crowd is going to get into it, and we got to pull together. We go to stay the same, and that’s kind of been our conversation all week.”
• The Bulls’ box score may not have looked ready for the playoffs, but their on-court demeanor did. I was impressed with how this group managed to stay engaged and ramp up their intensity as the game went on. Now, with that said, anxiety still lingers about a possible missed opportunity. The Milwaukee Bucks likely aren’t going to shoot 40.5 percent from the field again and turn the ball over 21 times, even if the Bulls’ defense looks as crisp as it did last night. The Bulls had the game sitting there for the taking with about 2 minutes to go, and we saw Nikola Vucevic blow a big-time layup and Zach LaVine chuck up a questionable long-range 3. Not to mention, DeMar DeClosin’ shot just 1-6 in the 4th quarter. That’s hard to stomach.
• Yet, in a lot of ways, this is what a Game 1 on the road is all about. The Bulls showed their opponent they will play an ugly and physical series if they have to. They gave a valiant effort and learned a lot of lessons along the way. The next step is to show they can bring the same level of intensity on Wednesday, while they also demonstrate an ability to make important game-by-game adjustments.
“I think there’s somethings we can clean up from what we were trying to do defensively and offensively to where we can get better,” Donovan told reporters. “But I think the competitive spirit that our guys played with, and the togetherness that they played with, considering the fact the way we closed the regular season, I think the week really helped us.
But we have to get up on Wednesday and do it all over again.”
• I don’t want to linger too heavily on the officiating, but what the absolute heck was this call?
Clean play from Giannis with 5 fouls pic.twitter.com/RTrMgypjLU
— Chip Jones (@ChipJNBA) April 18, 2022
• Look, Patrick Williams may not be allowed to backtrack while Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the air, but Antetokounmpo isn’t allowed to use Williams’ back as a launching pad. Williams was boxing out like he was supposed to until Antetokounmpo blatantly went over and back to try to scoop up that rebound. Do I think if Antetokounmpo fouls out on this play the entire outcome changes? Maybe … maybe not. Mike Budenholzer did take him in and out of the next handful of possessions anyway, but seeing him have to walk off the floor with six fouls can always be a momentum swing.
• Oh … and don’t get me started on the Zach LaVine offensive foul call in the 3rd quarter. I find it really hard to believe Middleton had his feet and body set on that fastbreak attempt. But, hey, if he did, give LaVine the same benefit of the doubt on the other end later in the game.
“I think one of the things we have to do in these playoff games is we have to move to the next play,” Donovan said when asked about the officiating. “At that point in time, I might argue it for 10 seconds, but then you got to move on. You’re not going to reverse the call unless you’re going to challenge it. We all got to move on.”
• Should Donovan have challenged either play? I say no to the charge and yes to the over-and-back. I understand wanting to save it in a close game – especially when that’s the only way to review an out-of-bounds call with a minute remaining – but the over-and-back felt blatant enough and late enough to give it a look.
• DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, and Billy Donovan snubbed!
2021-22 NBA Awards finalists: pic.twitter.com/CmpAs7tquF
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 17, 2022
• You don’t say!?
Chicago just need more wing depth
— kuz (@kylekuzma) April 17, 2022
• ICYMI: The Celtics did a thing …
I can’t get over Marcus Smart having the restraint to not shoot with 3.5 left. Patient play to pump fake, drawing two defenders. Jayson Tatum had the spin finish also great awareness to have such an timely cut to give Smart a target. Beautiful basketball. pic.twitter.com/TOufyXjMc7
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 17, 2022
• You absolutely love to see it!
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 18, 2022