10 observations: Depleted Bulls just miss upset of Bucks


Playing without Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and most of their power forward depth chart, the Chicago Bulls (28-16) fell just short of a seismic road win on Friday, falling to the Milwaukee Bucks (29-19) in a 94-90 rock fight.

Here are 10 observations:

1. When the Bulls announced 30 minute before tipoff that Tyler Cook was to make his first start of the season – taking the power forward spot Alfonzo McKinnie has held the last three games – it was obvious head coach Billy Donovan planned to hand him the Giannis Antetokounmpo defensive assignment.

And indeed, it was Cook checking the reigning MVP when the game began. Cook picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game, three by halftime, four through three quarters, and his fifth early in the fourth. And Antetokounmpo broke loose for 30 points.

But give Cook, a two-way player who returned from an ankle sprain just one game ago, credit for this: He didn’t back down, and had some highlight plays of his own, including a rip-away steal and multiple offensive foul draws. Plus, he supplied his typical energy on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds, and dunked home four points. His minutes were more than solid given the circumstances.

2. These teams entered play first (Bulls) and seventh (Bucks) in the NBA in 3-point percentage – and the Bucks second in 3-pointers made per game. So it was a surprise to see how much both sides struggled from long range, even on wide-open looks.

Both the Bucks (6-for-31, 19.4 percent) and Bulls (7-for-38, 18.4 percent) shot under 20 percent from behind the arc by night's end – the first game all season that either team finished under 20 percent from 3.

3. DeMar DeRozan thrived in that somewhat grimy environment, clinching his 12th game this season with double-digit free-throw attempts in the first half alone. He pump-faked and daringly drove his way to 18 charity-stripe attempts on the night, making 17. Both were season-highs.

DeRozan also posted his 11th 30-spot of the season with 35 points on 9-for-18 shooting – 8-for-13 from the midrange. The defeat marks just the third time in 22 games the Bulls have lost when DeRozan scored more than 25 points. But he kept them afloat for much of it.

4. Coby White (3-for-15) and Ayo Dosunmu (2-for-9) combined to shoot 5-for-24 from the field, with White a ghastly 0-for-9 from 3-point range (Dosunmu was 1-for-5). As mentioned earlier, many of those looks were good ones.

White and Dosunmu have each been on respective tears of late, so an off-shooting night is by no means existential. And, in fact, White (36.2 minutes) and Dosunmu (38.8) seeing their playing-time averages spike since entering the starting lineup three games ago may have contributed to some short shots.

Still, with the Bulls scrapping to break through the hump down the stretch, their scoring was missed.

5. Matt Thomas filled the void to a degree, matching a season high with three made 3s – two of which came in a critical third-quarter stretch that put the Bulls ahead 69-68 entering the fourth. He’s up to 43.4 percent from deep this season.

6. Alex Caruso took a scary fall in the third quarter after Bucks guard Grayson Allen ripped him out of the air as he skied for a fastbreak dunk.

Here is the play, which got Allen slapped with a Flagrant 2 and ejection:

Here is Donovan’s impassioned response, in which he berated Allen, who has a history of such plays, for threatening Caruso’s career, and called on the league to investigate it further:

(That's as publicly angry as Donovan has been since coming to Chicago, and a rare instance of singling out a player.)

Caruso didn’t escape unscathed, though he and Donovan were grateful he escaped serious injury. After the game, the Bulls guard reported being "banged up," with some pain in his wrist, which he added contributed to his 3-for-11 shooting night (1-for-6 from 3). Initial X-rays, at least, were negative.

Still, he tallied eight rebounds and four assists and provided solid defense on Antetokounmpo for a handful of possessions as Cook and Nikola Vučević both battled foul trouble. Caruso logged 24 minutes in keeping with the minutes restriction implemented to ramp him up from his recent return from injury/COVID.

7. Vučević, like Cook, ended the game with five fouls despite guarding Antetokounmpo for much of the stretch run. He was again wayward from 3-point range (2-for-7), but did hit a big one with 1:59 to play that cut a seven-point deficit to four.

And his 12 rebounds were crucial to the Bulls mostly holding their own on the glass in a matchup that projected to present size problems. The Bucks outrebounded the Bulls 62-57, a margin you can live with, though their 19 second-chance points featured multiple back-breakers.

8. Antetokounmpo posted a typically dominant stat line: 30 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in 37 minutes.

He also bailed the Bulls’ smaller defenders out at various points with difficult fallaways and pull-ups from mid- and 3-point range. Antetokounmpo shot 8-for-10 at the rim (10-for-14 in the paint, overall), but 1-for-6 from midrange and 0-for-3 from 3 on the night.

9. The Bucks’ biggest lead was seven, while the Bulls’ biggest lead was four, meaning this contest was played entirely within an 11-point margin. Add in 16 lead changes, and 15 ties, and it was a solid showing for the shorthanded Bulls in a measuring stick game, even if the result wasn’t what they ultimately desired.

The next time these teams square off, hopefully closer to full strength, will be informative.

10. With the loss, and a Brooklyn win over San Antonio, the Nets climb a half-game ahead of the Bulls for the East’s No. 1 seed. The Bulls have now dropped six of their last eight games, with potential get-right opportunities against Orlando and Oklahoma City on the horizon.

Next up: At the Magic on Sunday.

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