The weather outside was indeed frightful outside the United Center on Friday night. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Bulls looked to rebound after a bad loss to their rivals up north, the Milwaukee Bucks. As the white snow continued to increase on the streets of Chicago, twenty-thousand strong packed into the United Center. One of the bigger headlines heading into the game was whether or not Stacey King would finally pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name correctly.
As the entire world celebrated the opening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Bulls celebrated in their own way, with Star Wars night. Benny the Bull disguised as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the team at CSN creating their own twist on The Empire Strikes Back. Robin Lopez and Greg Monroe squared at center court, with Lopez winning the tip and with that, Bulls basketball was on the air. The Bucks supported their all green road jerseys while the Bulls wore their usual white home jerseys. Not to anyone’s surprise, the UC did not have its usual attendance at the game, given the poor conditions in the Chicago area. The Bucks got off to a strong start, leading 9-4 at the nine-minute mark. Nearing the halfway mark of the first, Giannis was already getting into his groove. The “Greek Freak” had eight points, two assists, and two rebounds at the 6:24 mark as the Bulls took a timeout with Milwaukee leading 18-11. The Bulls did a nice job of keeping the Bucks’ lead in striking distance, as Rajon Rondo created separation on Malcolm Brogdon and scooped home a layup to cut the lead to five. However, Milwaukee just continued to push on the gas. After excellent ball movement and unselfish offense, Mirza Teletovic hit a three to put the Bucks’ lead to eleven, and once again it looked like the Bulls were going to be in for a long night against a bad team. The Bucks were shooting nearly 70% from the field while the Bulls were shooting just under 40%. While the field goal percentage for Chicago was by no means atrocious, you just simply can’t allow your opponent to shoot so well from the floor. The defensive struggles continued for the Bulls, along with the domination by Giannis. In addition to the struggles on defense, the Bulls finished the quarter missing their last eight shots. The team was shooting twenty-three percent after one. Milwaukee led 34-15, and Giannis led all scorers with ten points.
The second quarter began similar to how the first went. The Bucks moved the ball perfectly, and as a result, Teletovic hit another three off an unselfish pass by Malcolm Brogdon. As the clock continued to run, the Bucks continued to make their shots, and with ease. As Jimmy Butler picked up his third foul, Milwaukee led by twenty with just under nine minutes to play in the half. The minutes in the half continued to drop, and so did the Bulls play. Poor movement on offense, not hustling on defense, and just a general lack of effort and sloppy play by the Bulls. At the halfway mark of the second, Milwaukee continued to enforce its will with a twenty-one-point lead, and showing no signs of slowing down. The Bulls hoped that they could just find some sort of spark to close out the half. However, that spark was just never ignited. The same issues continued to hinder any offense with the Bulls, with poor ball movement and wasting possessions. The Bucks’ main point of emphasis was to protect the Bulls from getting to the rim, and it certainly worked. They were giving all kinds of space to the Bulls guards, and players like Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo (not to my surprise) just could not answer. Simply put, this may have been the worst half of basketball the Bulls have played this season. It was just a hot mess, and the poor play translated into a massive deficit at the half. While the Bulls made a little surge in the final minute, Milwaukee still led nineteen after the first half.
The Bucks began the third with possession of the basketball, as they hoped to continue to put their offense in cruise control. The quarter started rather slow, as Milwaukee only scored eight points in the first five and a half minutes of the quarter. However, the Bulls did not take advantage of the Bucks finally slowing down, as they only made one basket within that span of time. Things just simply were not clicking for the Bulls, as they continued to struggle offensively and miss shots that usually fall. Sensing that a run seemed unlikely, Fred Hoiberg seemed to almost be waving the white flag at the halfway point of the third quarter. Milwaukee led by as much as twenty-eight, and just did not break. As the third quarter ended, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade sat on the Bulls bench with grim looks on their face, draped in their warmups, knowing another loss was headed the Bulls way.
Down twenty-two at the start of the fourth, the Bulls opened the scoring of the quarter as Bobby Portis hit a three from the corner. All five players on the court for the Bulls were off the bench, while Milwaukee still had the likes of Greg Monroe, Giannis, and other role players on the court. The Bucks just continued to enforce their will, and rightfully so. They just played so much better than the Bulls in every light of the game. As the few fans that remained at the UC grew restless, so did yours truly. This game was just an absolute eyesore, and while these kinds of games will happen every once in a while, the panic button may have to start coming out for the Bulls. While they have found ways to beat some of the best teams in basketball, they can’t seem to figure it out against the NBA’s “lower class”. However, after watching this mockery, we have to start thinking how and why the Bulls play like they do. One game you’re looking at a team that seriously might fight with the eastern conference’s elite, and another night you seem a team that belongs in the lottery.
I’m not the biggest fan of pointing fingers, but this has to relate back to Fred Hoiberg. Now one and a quarter seasons in, this team continues to struggle finding its identity. The Bulls do not play till Monday, and I think it’s safe to say that this weekend will serve of massive importance for the Bulls’ success in the immediate AND foreseeable future. Drive home extra safe Chicago, not only because of the weather, but for these Bulls. The final score of the game, Milwaukee ninety-five, the Bulls sixty-nine.
Up Next: The Bulls play host to yet another Central division rival as the Pistons come to town on Monday night.