Back to the United Center, the Defense Wakes Up, "The Paw" Makes an Impact, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Back to the United Center, the Defense Wakes Up, “The Paw” Makes an Impact, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls had lost 16 of 17 games to the Milwaukee Bucks heading into Wednesday night. The one victory they claimed came in the final game of the 2020-21 regular season, where head coach Mike Budenholzer opted for a lineup of Jeff Teague, Sam Merril, Pat Connaughton, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Mamadi Diakite. SnoopDogWho.gif

Meanwhile, in games where Giannis Antetokounmpo played since 2017, the Bulls franchise sat on a 14-game losing streak. The Greek Freak has simply had their number, which is a big reason why so many could envision a sweep on the horizon.

However, Chicago’s rejuvenated crew followed up a surprising Game 1 effort with an even more surprising Game 2 victory. While DeMar DeRozan led the way with a knock-your-socks-shoes-pants-shirt-toupee-off performance, it was a gritty team-wide display of two-way basketball that earned the Bulls’ a tied series heading back to the United Center.

•   The goal is always to steal one on the road, and the Chicago Bulls managed to do just that. The Milwaukee Bucks will now have to travel to easily one of the toughest places to play in the NBA. The United Center has not hosted a playoff basketball game since 2017, and there is no question the stakes feel that much higher this time around with a real rivalry brewing between two close-proximity teams. Nikola Vucevic knows the Bulls have a major opportunity with a raucous crowd on their side these next two games, and he sounds more than excited to experience it:

“I expect a very loud United Center … I think Bulls fans are hungry for some home playoff games there. They’ve been great with us all season long, so I can’t imagine what it will be like in the playoffs,” Vucevic told reporters after the Bulls’ 114-110 win.

•   Home court advantage is a real thing, and we need to look no further than the Bulls’ 27-14 regular-season record at the United Center, which is tied for the East’s 3rd-best mark.

•   The Milwaukee Bucks sent out an extremely ill-advised tweet of Grayson Allen chomping on a donut with the caption “good morning” less than 24 hours after he shattered Alex Caruso’s wrist in January. With that context, I present you with this:

•   I can’t even begin to describe how important Caruso was in last night’s win, but I’ll at least try to in a post that will come your way later today. As for these bullets, I want to tip my hat to the overall communal effort we saw on the defensive end. We asked whether or not the Bulls could keep up the physical and well-executed performance from Game 1 earlier this week, and they answered with a resounding “DUH” at the opening tip. Chicago forced three-straight turnovers to start the night thanks to some strong awareness and some aggressive double-teaming. They played on a string for 48 minutes, rotating well and showing enough bodies to force the Bucks into countless mistakes. The performance was a blend of quick, decisive, and physical playmaking and it forced the Bucks into playing messy, hesitant, and inconsistent.

•   By the end of the night, the Bucks had 15 turnovers to their name and the Bulls won the points off turnovers battle 19-13. Milwaukee’s 36 total turnovers in the first two games of this series mark the most the Bulls have forced in a two-game span since November 14-15 against the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers. Now, do the Bulls have the Bucks’ own sloppiness to thank for some of these mistakes? Of course, but there is also no question this team is playing some of their best defense post-Lonzo-Ball injury.

•   Part of what made the Bulls special early on this series was their ability to force turnovers and rely on their efficient All-Star scorers to immediately take advantage (remember, this was a team that averaged the 6th-most points off turnovers mid-way through January). One game after shooting a combined 21-71 from the field, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan finished the night each shooting 51.6 percent or better. Even more impressive, Vucevic and LaVine went a combined 7-12 from downtown, with three of those makes coming in a pivotal 4th quarter.

•   As I said after Game 1: I liked almost all of the shots DeMar DeRozan took, and I thought that was a promising sign for a bounceback performance. I think it’s safe to say he (and Caruso) agreed.

•   You’re succeeding, DeMar.

•   Patrick Williams deserves a tip of the hat for his contributions last night. No, he may not have lit up the scoreboard, but he played a far more aggressive game on both ends of the floor than the one we saw on Sunday. Not only did he have some great moments as a help defender, but he put up a much-needed fight on the glass with 9 rebounds. We also watched him hunt his spots for a 5-9 shooting performance with 8 points. At the end of the day, this is pretty much what the Bulls need from him for the remainder of the series. He needs to make his presence felt to open up the floor on offense, and he needs to use his already-high-end defensive skills to help protect the paint on defense. For more on Williams … 

•   United Center North!

•   You hate to see injuries take anyone out for an extended period during this time of year, so I really do hope Middleton is ok. With that said, if he does have to miss time, there is no question that could have a significant impact on this series.

•  This guy is something else:

•   Hmm.


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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.