Rudy, Rocky, Hickory High, step aside. Here comes another perhaps underrated one, the bulls.
The Boston Celtics lead the Eastern Conference with nine straight wins. No big deal. I didn’t even try that hard to get her home at 2pm on Monday. The Milwaukee Bucks, second-best record in the NBA, 9-1 at home and targeting a return to the NBA Finals. OK, maybe a little harder because it’s in Milwaukee.
But down the stretch, when it mattered most, it was the Bulls 118-113 making the big shots and forcing the Bucks to make the big turnovers.
No jack or beanstalk, but there was the charming 36-point DeMar DeRozan who helped chop off the Bucks’ head; Giannis Antetokounmpo, who teamed with Alex Caruso, drew offensive fouls; no David, but there were Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević with 18 points each and Coby White off the bench with 14 and those game-changing sling-shot threes in the last minute of the game to brew the Bucks’ Goliaths.
Suddenly these Bulls are huge killers, and at 8-10 and the way they’re knocking some down to size, the rest of this six-game road trip doesn’t look quite as amazing when it begins Friday in Oklahoma City.
“The confidence I have in this group of guys once we figured it out would click,” said DeRozan, whose 18 points in the third quarter gave the Bulls an opportunity to parry several late runs in Milwaukee. “Being involved and having the confidence to compete are the results we can achieve. In these last two games, it’s the top teams in the NBA; shown that we can do it.
“By losing the games that we lost, we held each other accountable,” revealed DeRozan. “Everyone has spoken up whenever we get a chance, film sessions, exercises; we were on each other We took it up and showed how badly we want it instead of just talking about it; this is proof that guys want to go out and compete. Coach challenged me, Zach, and Vooch a few games ago. We have to live up to that, keep this group going. It’s a challenge we’ve all accepted.
“Sometimes you have to go through everything to understand,” DeRozan said. “I think that’s exactly where we are at. We had some bad moments, lost four games in a row, dropped games we thought we should have won, tight games, got whooping cough at home. I went through so many emotions after just 20 games in the season. Sometimes that’s an advantage. You have to absorb that pain and somehow make him want to be a competitor and that’s where we are now I think.”
While it’s still under .500, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good place to take out the NBA’s hottest teams and win in Milwaukee.
The Bulls did it by not only pushing out the Bucks, which the Bulls can do with their reserve corps, making nine steals and forcing 20 turnovers. But they pulled it off as they rarely do, surpassing one of the top three-point shooting teams. The Bulls had a season-high 18 threes in 42 attempts while the Bucks were 12 of 38.
It’s often how the modern NBA game is decided who makes the most three-pointers.
It’s not usually the Bulls without the usual catch-and-shoot three-point threats that so many teams have. The cops often have to do it with LaVine’s pull-up threes and DeRozan’s pull-up twos. And pull a rabbit out of their defenses.
He got a lot of it, but Javonte Green also flew off the bench with a pair of threes. And then White was as electric as it was eclectic with four threes, including the back-to-back winning pair on the stretch when it looked like the Bucks were going to steal the Bulls’ best defensive game of the season.
“I have complete faith in Coby every time he shoots the ball,” DeRozan said. “I tell him all the time if he misses one, two, three keep shooting because he has the ability to get hot at every moment of the game. The one he hit in the corner (112-109 by 46.1 seconds). I knew if his man collapsed I would find him and he would knock him over; he does.
“He (Coby) changed the game,” DeRozan added. “Coby gets hot in every game, he can do six to eight threes. He’s changing the way defenses protect us when he’s out there. The dynamic it brings makes us all the more difficult to guard. There will be many more moments where he can shine and show what he can do; this is him, big games, big moments. You definitely need someone like that.”
If the cops have him, who knows where it may lead.
It wasn’t as safe as Monday’s against the Celtics, and the Bucks progressed after the Bulls took a 94-84 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls’ helping, rotating and throwing various combinations frustrated Antetokounmpo to eight points in the first half with a 62-61 Bucks lead after the Bucks quickly went 16-7 out. And Donovan called in less than two minutes.
But DeRozan and LaVine each had 13 points in the first half as the teams traded shots, Patrick Williams with blocks on Giannis, LaVine made four of his first five shots and often pushed the ball on offense as the de facto point guard, Donovan with a technical foul , LaVine lost a score when he was ruled out for a kick on a shot, Caruso and DeRozan actually took turns defending Antetokounmpo on the Bulls tag team. Even so, the Bucks were 50-38 up midway through the second quarter as DeRozan got his offense up to full speed and then snapped up to rack up some points to start the second half.
“The third quarter is just aggressive,” DeRozan said. “We’ve had too many games this year, in the third quarter we just let games pass by which made it harder for us. So I just tried to take it upon myself to bring energy and be aggressive and try to make that contagious.”
Highlighted by a 12-2 sprint late in the quarter, the Bulls led 90-83 into the fourth quarter.
The god-fearing Greek of the Bucks rammed his way to 17 points in the fourth quarter from under his 36 points to match DeRozan. Antetokounmpo also had 11 rebounds and seven assists while DeRozan had eight assists. But the difference was eight turnovers from Antetokounmpo and seven for Jrue Holiday, the latter the top defender that DeRozan also failed to contain.
“He’s an incredible player,” Donovan marveled at DeRozan. “He’s so good. You will see the shotmaking ability. For me there are many things that are as impressive as the competitive urge to win and want to be great. And for him, only victory counts. Also his detail, the way he works out and studies the game and puts the work into it and his IQ and his calm and demeanor in those moments. He really is a special player on many different levels. He’s very unique in a special way because he has so many incredible qualities that make him the player he is.”
Still, the Bulls battled the Bucks’ Big Guys, who won the Boards 48-35 and 18-7 on second chance points. Early in the fourth quarter, the Bucks beat the Bulls with a 13-1 run to get back in the game and take the lead, burning the Bulls with their smaller lineups.
But when it came to late shooting, the cops were the surprising shooters.
Vučević made back-to-back three-pointers midway through the fourth quarter as the Bucks twice took a one-point lead. And then, after the Bucks went 109-106 ahead of Giannis by 1:35 with a jump shot of all things, it was the Bulls, and White in particular, who bucked a well-known trend.
These bucks aren’t turkeys, but the bulls knew how to aim. And if not tapping the filling out of them, puree them a little so that the end result was more than just gravy. I know, but it’s now a journalistic rule that if a team is playing within 12 hours of the holiday, you have to make some silly Thanksgiving innuendos.
So be thankful to return until the end of the game.
And boomshakalaka, Coby with the threes to tie the game with 1:15 left, Giannis being forced into another onslaught by those pesky bulls, Coby again with the threes to lead with 46.1 seconds left, Holiday with the pass out of bounds after a break – that? did you make that up? — and in the crowd they’re not booing, they’re saying vooooooooch with the closer for a six-point Bulls lead by 20.6 seconds. No magic this time.
“[This win]means a lot,” LaVine said. “Back to back really good wins, number one in the east. Shows that we can play anyone and beat anyone. We have to have the same attitude in every game. Hopefully we can start stacking them. I think we reacted correctly and maybe that’s the jump-start. Especially on this road trip, us on the road, us against everyone. Sometimes that’s all you need.”
Because giants can be smashed to size if you try.
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