Rudy, Rocky, Hickory Hey, step aside. Here comes another possibly underestimated person, the bulls.
The Boston Celtics led the Eastern Conference with nine straight wins. No, no big deal. I didn’t try too hard to get them at 14 at home on a Monday. The Milwaukee Bucks, the second-best record in the NBA, are 9-1 at home and are looking to get back to the NBA Finals. Well, maybe it’s a little more difficult to be in Milwaukee.
But down the stretch when it mattered most, the Bulls were 118-113, making big shots and forcing the Bucks into big turnovers.
No jack or beanstalk, but wizard DeMar DeRozan was there with 36 points and helped decapitate the Bucks’ head, Giannis Antetokounmpo, causing offensive fouls with Alex Caruso; No David, but there were Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic with 18 points, Kobe White off the bench with 14 and a game-breaking three-pointer in the final minute of the game to brew the Bucks’ mores.
Suddenly these Bulls are giant killers, and at 8-10 and the way they knock out some stuff that made for the size of the rest of this six-game wild ride doesn’t look all that great starting in Oklahoma City on Friday.
“The confidence that I have in this group of guys is, once we spot it, we’ll get it clicking,” said DeRozan, whose 18 points in the third quarter gave the Bulls the ability to help fend off several late Milwaukee runs. “Being locked in and having the confidence to compete, those are the results we can get. The last two games, they’re the best teams in the NBA. Show we can do that.”
“We lost the games we lost, we were holding each other accountable,” DeRozan revealed. “Everyone would talk whenever we got a chance, photo sessions, and rehearse; we were so into each other. We’d pick it up and show how bad we wanted it instead of just talking about it; it’s proof of guys wanting to go out and compete. The coach, Zack and Foch challenged me a few days ago. Matches. We have to live up to that, and keep this group going. It’s a challenge we’ve all accepted.
“Sometimes you have to go through everything you have to go through to understand it,” DeRozan said. “I think that’s where we’re at now. We’ve had some bad moments, losing four games in a row, losing games we thought we should have won, shutting games down, tending our butts at home. He’s kind of gone through a lot of emotions already 20 A game a season. Sometimes that helps. You have to soak that hurt and kind of generate that for being competitive, and that’s where I think we’re at right now.”
Although it’s still under .500, it seems like a pretty good place for the hottest teams in the NBA to come out and win in Milwaukee.
The Bulls did it not just by being pushed with dollars, which the Bulls can do with their reserves troop, getting nine steals and forcing 20 turnovers. But they did it the way they rarely do, outscoring one of the best shooting teams by three points. The Bulls have hit a season high 18 triples in 42 attempts while the Bucks have had 12 of 38.
The way a modern NBA game is often decided is who makes the most of the three.
The Bulls are usually not without the common three-point threats such as those faced by many teams. The bulls often have to do this with pullup twos from LaVine and pullup twos from DeRozan. And pull a rabbit out of their defense.
I got a bunch of that, but Javonte Green also flew off the bench with a pair of triples. Then White was as electric as he was selective with four triples, including the winning back-to-back pair down the stretch when it looked like the Bucks were going to steal the Bulls’ best defensive game of the season.
“I have a lot of confidence in Kobe every time he hits the ball,” DeRozan said. “I tell him all the time if he misses one, two, three, keep shooting because he has that ability to get hot at any moment in the game. The one he hit in the corner (to go ahead 112-109 with 46.1 seconds left). I knew it was him.” If his leg broke, I would find him and was about to knock him down; that’s what he does.
“He (Kobe) changed the game,” DeRozan added. “Kobe gets hot in any given game he can make six to eight times. He changes the way defenses guard us when he’s there. The dynamism he brings makes us even more difficult to guard. There will be plenty of moments for him to shine and show what he can do; that Ho ho, big games, important moments. You definitely need someone like that.”
If he had the bulls, who knows where he might have gone.
Never was it as certain as Monday against the Celtics, and the Bucks kept coming after the Bulls took a 94-84 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls helped, taking turns and throwing various combinations by frustrating Antetokounmpo to eight first-half points in a 62-61 Bucks lead after the Bucks quickly came out 16-7. Donovan was calling in less than two minutes.
But DeRozan and LaVine both had 13 points in the first half as the teams traded blows, Patrick Williams blocking Giannis, LaVine making four of his first five shots and pushing the ball on offense more often than not as the de facto point guard, Donovan with a technical foul. LaVine lost the score when he was adjudged to kick his foot on a shot, Caruso and DeRozan actually took turns defending Antetokounmpo in the Bulls tag team. The Bucks still led 50-38 midway through the second quarter when DeRozan kicked his offense into high gear, then put up a run to score some points to start the second half.
“The third quarter came out strong,” DeRozan said. “We’ve had a lot of games this year, in the third quarter, we let games slip away, and it just made it harder for us. So I just tried to hold myself to bring the energy and be aggressive and try to make that infectious.”
Highlighted by a 12-2 late spurt in the quarter, the Bulls led 90-83 going into the fourth.
Bucks reliever Grecian began working his way to the edge on his way to 17 fourth-quarter points among DeRozan’s 36 game points. Antetokounmo had 11 rebounds and seven assists, while DeRozan had eight. But the difference was eight turnovers from Antetokounmpo and seven encounters with Junior Holiday, the latter being the number one defender who was also unable to contain DeRozan.
“He’s an incredible player,” Donovan marveled at DeRozan. “He’s so good. You see the ability to shoot. For me, there’s a lot of things that go into it that are admirable, like the competitive drive to want to win and be great. The only thing that matters to him is winning. And also his detailing, his method of training, his study of the game and puts work In him, his intelligence, his calmness and his demeanor in those moments. He’s really a special player on so many different levels. He’s very unique in a special way because he has so many amazing qualities that make him this kind of player.”
However, the Bulls were scrambling against the Bucks’ big men who won the boards 48-35 and 18-7 on second chance points. Early in the fourth quarter, the Bucks hit the Bulls with a 13-1 run to get back in the game and take the lead, burning the Bulls with their smaller formations.
But then when it became a late shooting contest, the Bulls were the surprising shooters.
Vučević returned to three straight tackles midway through the fourth quarter when the Bucks twice led by one point. And then, after the Bucks took a 109-106 lead with 1:35 left on Giannis, of all things, he made the leap, it was the Bulls, especially White, who bucked the familiar trend.
These dollars are not turkeys, but the bulls knew how to aim. And if it’s not a matter of getting them completely out of the stuffing, mash them up a bit so the win is more than just the gravy. I know, but now it’s a press rule, you have to make some dumb mentions on Thanksgiving if the team plays within 12 hours of the holiday.
So be grateful to come back to the end of the game.
And boomshakalaka, Kobe with the three to tie the game with 1:15 left, Giannis forced another call by those annoying bulls, Kobe again with the three to lead with 46.1 seconds left, Holiday with a pass out of bounds out of bounds after timeout – that? Have they come up with it? — and in the crowd they’re not booing, they’re saying Vooooooooch with the closer leading the Bulls by six points with 20.6 seconds left. No magic this time.
“(This win) means a lot,” said Lavigne. “Looking back really good wins, number one in the East. It shows we can play against anyone and we can beat anyone. We have to have the same mentality in every game. Hopefully we can start to pile on it. I think we responded in the right way and maybe that’s it.” It’s the jump start. Especially going on this wild ride, we’re on the road, we’re against everybody. Sometimes that’s all you need.”
Because giants can be shrunk if you give them a chance.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect those of the Chicago Bulls, Basketball Operations Team, parent company, partners or sponsors. His sources are unknown to the Bulls and he has no special access to information other than the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA-certified member in the media.