Cruel winter: Bulls 81 – Bucks 72
The weather outside the BMOBC last night was oddly predictive of the events that would unfold inside. For the first time in what seems like ages, the deep freeze that had encased Milwaukee was gone and temperatures rose above freezing. The result? Steady rain that mixed with the accumulation of snow and turned the whole thing into a slippery, treacherous mess that nearly sent me falling into the street on multiple occasions. And when I got inside… well, at least the footing was better.
I’m eschewing the standard recap formula because if I did give out grades, I’d be giving out Fs all around. Sure, individual players played respectably. O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour, and Miroslav Raduljica, in particular, were competent in their time on the floor. But frankly, when you can barely score 70 points against a team as depleted and dinged up as the Bulls, you’ve earned a failing grade. Like my high school calculus teacher always told his classes: I don’t give you grades, you earn them.
Instead, I’m going to paint a word picture of what happened. Imagine, if you will, the lower bowl of the Bradley Center swathed in red. Bulls red. Milwaukee is notorious for hosting a large contingent of Chicago fans (both Cubs and Bulls) when they visit, and the proximity combined with the availability of tickets due to the well-documented Bucks’ attendance woes led to an atmosphere that felt far more like the United Center Jr. than the Bradley Center. The loudest cheer of the night came for a thunderous Taj Gibson dunk (pictured above). An “MVP” chant started while Mike Dunleavy stood at the foul line shooting free throws (he missed them both, but still).
In related news, the Bulls crushed the Bucks in free throw differential, as the Horned Cows shot 39 foul shots compared to the Horned Deers’ 12 and making 27 compared to 9. In a 9-point game, that 18-point advantage seems important. Now, I really have no sense as to whether the foul disparity was related to the hostile takeover of Chicago fans or if the game was unfairly officiated. What I do know is that Carlos Boozer should have been allowed to bring a chair out to the foul line and camp out considering the amount of time he spent shooting free throws.
The Bucks started strong, outscoring the Bulls en route to a 27-20 first quarter lead. Ridnour came out with 7 points and 3 assists and really seemed to have the offense in a productive rhythm. However, even then warning signs flashed. Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up two quick fouls and was replaced by Khris Middleton, who picked up two quick fouls and was replaced by Caron Butler. Butler played the majority of the second quarter to avoid further foul trouble for the young forwards. However, even when they did play, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton were ineffective, combining for 1-12 shooting and a meager 3 points on the night.
From that first quarter, however, things went downhill. The Bulls, led by noted Buck-turned-Buck-killer Mike Dunleavy, pulled ahead for a 47-45 halftime advantage and never looked back. Assorted small runs by the Bucks kept the game close and they pulled within a point on several occasions, but the Bulls never relinquished their lead. Valiant efforts by Mayo (16 points), Ridnour (14 points, 8 assists), Ilyasova (14 points, 6 rebounds), and Raduljica (10 points, 4 offensive rebounds) were the few bright spots.
Things We Saw
- Larry Sanders had a difficult time in his battle with Carlos Boozer, becoming visually agitated on at several points and drawing a technical foul in addition to his fifth personal foul (against Boozer, surprisingly enough) with 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter. He was able to remain in the game into the fourth quarter before fouling out. When asked about the technical after the game, Drew said that he didn’t worry about Sanders’ technical in light of his well-documented reputation but did say that Sanders must be careful to avoid letting them snowball into a serious problem. The incident will fuel the discussion about Sanders’ temper – in fact, it already has – and it seemed to be the cumulative result of his frustrations with Boozer, a noted agitator. Sanders finished the night 0-2 with 9 rebounds and 2 blocks.
- Before the game, Drew talked about Middleton’s struggles after being moved to the bench and admitted that he’s considering adding the second-year swingman back into the starting lineup. I think that would be welcomed by a lot of people, even though it would probably mean moving Antetokounmpo back to the bench. Drew also said he likes the dynamic of Brandon Knight and Ridnour in the starting backcourt, which means that those two likely wouldn’t be split up in lineup reshuffling.
- Post-game, Drew used the phrases “play smart” and “execute” approximately 1000 times in response to questions about his team’s play. Since I’m not privy to the Bucks’ practices and team meetings, I can’t say for sure if the lack of precision and good decision-making on the team can be blamed on Drew or on the players. However, he has been paying lip service to the ideas of team basketball and good execution since the beginning of the season without much indication that the team is improving in those areas. Admittedly, I’m about as forgiving and understanding as they come, but the coach’s handling of and control over his team are starting to become worrisome.
- For those keeping track: the Bucks are now 7-28, 4 games clear of the Jazz for the worst record in the NBA. And Chad Ford’s mock lottery machine is now a thing, so we can go and distract ourselves from the team’s current quagmire with dreams of Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, or Andrew Wiggins. The draft lottery will be held on May 20, if you were wondering.
- The Bucks’ next game is tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.