The Chicago Bulls pulled off an upset on Wednesday night, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 114-109 in Game 2 of their first-round series, which is now tied 1-1. A pivotal Game 3 is set for Friday night in Chicago, as the Bulls will host their first postseason game since 2017.
DeMar DeRozan was spectacular, hitting tough bucket after tough bucket en route to a playoff career-high 41 points to lead the Bulls. His driving layup with 18.2 seconds remaining pushed the lead to five and essentially ended the game. Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine also played well, combining for 44 points to supplement DeRozan’s scoring.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks, finishing with 33 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists. It wasn’t enough for a Bucks team that made too many mistakes — 15 turnovers — and ended the game without both Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis. Middleton suffered an MCL sprain and will undergo an MRI on Thursday, while Portis left with an eye abrasion that affected his vision.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
DeRozan puts on a show
DeMar DeRozan had a tough time in Game 1 of this series, scoring 18 points on 6 of 25 from the field. Despite the rough night, he maintained his confidence, telling reporters he would bounce back in Game 2. “No way in hell I shoot 6-25 again,” DeRozan said.
He was a man of his word. Less than a minute into the game, DeRozan drove to the basket for the first points of the night, and never looked back. His final line was a playoff career-high 41 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 16 of 31 from the field. As great as those numbers are, they don’t quite do his performance justice.
Watching it live was a truly special experience. Everyone in the arena knew what he was going to do, and there was no way for anyone to stop it. Over and over again, he would catch the ball near the top of the key, work himself into a rhythm and hit a pull-up jumper, often right in a defender’s face. Late in the third quarter, in particular, he hit two ridiculous shots over Giannis.
“He’s a great player,” Giannis said. “He’s a guy that’s tough to guard because he wants to shoot those mid-range shots. He wants to get to his spots, has great balance, great rhythm. He’s gonna make a lot of those shots. He did it in the regular season, he did it tonight. But at the end of the day I feel like we contested every shot. Like, it wasn’t open.”
“We did our job, but at the end of the day sometimes you do your job and it’s not enough,” Giannis continued. “But hey, you gotta give him credit. He was very, very good tonight. He played unbelievable.”
Even when the Bucks started to have a bit of success slowing him down in the fourth quarter — Jrue Holiday had a remarkable block on one of his jumpers — he just kept attacking. The persistence paid off when he got to the line for two big free throws with 90 seconds remaining, and then a few possessions later drove to the rim for a tough bucket to seal the win with 18.2 seconds left.
Bucks’ injuries a concern going forward
As the Bucks were trying to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, Khris Middleton drove to the basket, planted to spin and slipped on a wet spot. That bit of bad luck could have a major impact on the series. Middleton’s left leg gave out as he collapsed to the floor in an awkward fashion, and Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer announced after the game that he had suffered a sprained MCL.
There’s no timeline for Middleton’s return, and the team will learn more after an MRI on Thursday, but this is clearly bad news for the Bucks.
“It’s tough,” Giannis said. “I know that feeling. You don’t want to talk to nobody, because you really don’t know what it is. Until you tomorrow you’re expecting the worst, hoping for the best. But at the end of the day he knows we are by his side. I don’t need to say it in the media. He knows that he’s my brother no matter what. We need him to win. We’re gonna pray, I’m gonna pray for the best. Hopefully it’s not too bad.”
Even in a best-case scenario, Middleton seems set for a spell on the sidelines, which would leave them without one of their best, most versatile players. In the regular season, the Bucks were 37-10 when all three of Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday played. When one or more of them were out, they were 14-21.
Middleton’s knee wasn’t the only injury problem for the Bucks in Game 2. They also spent most of the game without Bobby Portis, who caught an elbow late in the first quarter and did not return due to problems with his vision. Portis was officially diagnosed with an eye abrasion, and Budenholzer seemed hopeful it would not keep him out of Game 3, but it’s something to monitor.