Even Steven

The Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks find themselves knotted at a game a piece, after Chicago won the second game of the best-of-seven playoff series (104-100). DeMar DeRozan, as he has done all season long, anchored the Bulls with his offense, and Alex Caruso locked down the Bucks on defense, securing the all important road playoff victory.

A lot of media outlets and bloggers seem to be leaning into the Bulls “stole” Game 2 narrative, but the truth is, the Bulls BEAT the Bucks. They played better on both sides of the court, the Bulls out efforted the Bucks in the most important facets of the game, and they matched every run the defending champions made. Game 2 was the most encouraging win the Bulls have had all season long. They finally beat an elite team, and they finally beat Giannis Antetokounmpo.

After the disheartening loss in the opening game of the series (93-86), I’m not going to lie, I didn’t have a very optimistic view of where the series was headed. I was dreading a Bucks sweep. That first game was so sloppy, with turnovers, bad officiating, and poor shooting galore, but victory was still within the Bulls reach late in the 4th quarter. As the game slipped away, I resigned myself to a quick Bulls exit from the playoffs. Surely, the Bucks would bounce back from this ugly mess of a game and confidently put the Bulls out of their misery.

What I hadn’t counted on was the confidence boost the near victory gave the Chicago squad. They were within a hairs breath of winning Game 1. If Giannis picks up his 6th on what was CLEARLY an over-the-back foul on Patrick Williams, and is forced to leave the game, who knows how Game 1 ends? With the playoff jitters out of the way, and a clear sense of what it would take to beat the Bucks, Chicago jumped on Milwaukee in Game 2.

DeMar DeRozan blasted the Bucks for 41 points. Milwaukee’s defense is predicated on taking away shots at the rim and shots on the perimeter, leaving the mid-range wide open. DeRozan feasted, achieving Beast Mode in the 2nd half. It didn’t matter who Milwaukee tried to defend him with, Wesley Matthews, Jrue Holiday, Giannis, he cooked them all. DeRozan taught his Master Class of the Mid-Range Jumper to some of the best defenders in the NBA, schooling them all. It was beautiful.

Alex Caruso was a defensive dynamo. He finished with a +16 +/-, the best in the game. He had 2 steals and 2 blocks, but he wasn’t just a force on defense, he was a dimer as the lead ball handler down the stretch of the game. With Holiday playing stifling defense on Zach LaVine, and the Zach’s penchant for turning the ball over in clutch time, Caruso was the perfect person to get the Bulls into their offense. He kept the team from panicking as the Bucks slowly chipped away at the Bulls lead, and dished out 10 assists while only giving up 1 turnover. Without Caruso’s play on both ends of the court, the Bulls don’t win Game 2.

The last Bull I want to single out for his performance in Game 2 is Nikola Vucevic. One of the most important things the Bulls need to do this series is hit 3 pointers to keep pace with Milwaukee’s dynamic perimeter scoring. Vucevic did that in a big way. He was 4-8 from behind the arc, and nailed a few dagger 3’s to help end Milwaukee runs. A lot has been made by fans and the media about whether or not Vooch should be camped out under the basket looking for rebounds and to score inside, or if he should be spreading the floor as a perimeter threat. Billy Donovan did a good job of getting both of those things out of Vucevic. With 24 points and 13 rebounds, Vooch was a big part of why this series is 1-1.

The series now shifts to Chicago, with games 3 and 4 at the United Center. The Bulls have been very good at home this season, but as we’ve just seen in Game 2, the regular season means very little when it comes to the playoffs. The main focus for the Bulls will be to avoid a let down after coming off their win. They’ll need to stay dialed in on the perimeter, and keep the defensive intensity and focus as high as they can. The Bucks will be without Khris Middleton who suffered a freak MCL sprain after slipping on what appeared to be a wet spot on the court late in game 2. Former Bull, Bobby Portis, left the court midway through Game 2 after being smacked in the face with by the flailing arm of Tristan Thompson as the two of them went after a rebound. I haven’t seen an update on Portis or his status for Game 3.

After Game 1, there was a lot of doom and gloom across Bulls Nation, but Game 2 did a lot to restore hope to the fan base. Even as I reemphasize that the Bulls BEAT the Bucks (Game 2 was NOT “stolen”), this series is far from over. Milwaukee should bounce back, and even while dealing with significant injuries to important players, the Bucks are a very dangerous team. Giannis is a very dangerous player. He might just mess around and get the Bucks back to the Finals. The Bulls can’t afford to let down their guard, they need to bring the fight to the Bucks just like they did in their victory on Wednesday. Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!