The Chicago Bulls sure do know how to fight.
That was the tone of the game all night, facing off against the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and one of the most dominant players in the league — Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Tyler Cook started the game on Antetokounmpo, symbolizing the degree of short-handedness the Bulls were against the Bucks.
The team was without Zach LaVine (knee), who reportedly should return for next Wednesday’s game versus the Raptors, and Lonzo Ball, who will undergo preemptive treatment before receiving surgery on his partially torn meniscus.
Without also Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., it created the answer to the question, “why is Tyler Cook guarding Giannis?”
Antetokounmpo measured up Cook every time he got down the floor, drawing two early fouls on Cook and pouring in 10 first-quarter points in a rather low-scoring contest.
Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field and under 20 percent from the three-point range. It created a war of attrition on both ends of the floor and provided a look into a possible Eastern Conference playoff matchup.
By time’s end, the Bulls missed plenty of open looks down the stretch from behind the arc and from their typical spots. The Bulls missed four shots in the final sequence as they tried to cut the lead down in the final seconds.
Here are some other thoughts to take from tonight’s hard-fought game.
Good fight, boys. We move. pic.twitter.com/ACbK05vkw6
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 22, 2022
DeMar DeRozan loves to score
Despite having a rough stretch of games, scoring under 20 points against the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors, DeRozan picked up the slack.
Last game against the Cavaliers, DeRozan elevated the Bulls offensively for his 10th 30-point outing of the season. He shot 14-of-24 from the field and worked his magic to give the Bulls an impressive win over a sneaky Eastern Conference team.
Against the Cavs, DeRozan shot an uncharacteristically 2-of-5 from the free-throw line, despite his successful offensive outing. On Friday night, against the Bucks, he shot a season-high 18 free throws, sinking 17 of them.
DeRozan has more real estate at the free-throw line than the Bears have in Arlington Park. And no, he’s not building a shopping mall there.
Despite what the final score may tell you, DeRozan is vital to the Bulls’ success and heavily relied upon down the stretch. The MVP chants rightfully followed him to Fiserv Forum.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Yes, Antetokounmpo barreled in 30 points on an extremely efficient and wildly dominant 11-of-23 shooting. On a night where everyone else shot the ball poorly, Giannis shot the ball well.
But, check out his supporting cast. Outside of Antetokoumpo, the Bucks made just 23 shots on 65 attempts. The Bucks’ next leading scorer was Middleton with 16 points.
Bulls fans’ thanks to Tyler Cook, who was assigned to guarding Antetokoumpo and stuck with him despite picking up early fouls. Cook drew a couple of charges and forced tough shots to keep him contained.
Alex Caruso also showed himself in his second game back from injury/Covid/injury.
Side note: Thankfully, Grayson Allen didn’t end Caruso’s career, as Billy Donovan alluded to that possibility after the game from Allen’s flagrant-two, ejection-worthy foul. If two missed free throws are the price to pay for Caruso being on the floor, I’ll pay it.
Caruso on the subject: “Kinda bullsh-t. Don’t know what else to do about it.”
Caruso says Grayson Allen foul was “bulls**t” pic.twitter.com/d9s0Z2VEVB
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 22, 2022
The box score would never tell you how important he is on the floor. Caruso slashed seven points, eight rebounds and four assists on 3-of-11 shooting. Yet, he was vital to the Bulls’ stoppage of the Bucks.
He forced jump balls, deflected passes and somehow performed a swim move over Donte DiVencenzo to knock the ball out of his hands as he swooped under the rim. This guy is everywhere.
The Starting Backcourt
The common belief after hearing about Ball’s injury following LaVine’s was that the backcourt has luckily been successful anyways and should manage to keep the Bulls afloat despite missing two starters.
Recently, Ayo Dosunmu put up two magnificent games against the Celtics (21 points, 10 assists on 9-of-10 shooting) and the Cavaliers (18 points, 7-of-8 shooting).
Coby White has averaged 17 points per contest over his last three games, shooting a solid 18-of-41 from the field.
However, nothing successful came from either, outside of hustle and effort.
Dosunmu scored five points, yet hustled for 39 minutes and assisted on six buckets.
The same went for White, who struggled severely from deep shooting 0-of-9. He scored seven points on 3-of-15 shooting.
The backcourt played into the theme of poor shooting on the night and rarely any offensive success. Yet, hustle and effort kept them manageable as they bring that momentum forward before LaVine’s near return to the floor.
As for Friday’s game against the Bucks, I think Bulls fans can agree it was an entertaining, encouraging fight the Bulls put up. The Bulls drop down to second in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 2022, but I have a feeling they won’t be there for long.