MILWAUKEE – Before the game, Billy Donovan made it a point to mention to his team that the playoffs were an opportunity to have a “clean slate” following a difficult end to the regular season.
A chance to do just that was ahead of the Bulls in Game 1, as they rallied from a bad start to got toe-to-toe with the defending NBA champion Bucks all the way to the end.
Now if only they could have made a basket when it counted, or at a lot of other times during the game.
Indeed it was the Bulls’ inability to put the ball in the basket that kept them from pulling the surprise in the first game – and it wasn’t pretty for almost everyone on the team.
Over the course of 48 minutes, the visitors shot 3.23 percent from the floor and hit just 7-of-37 behind the three-point line. They’d miss the final five shots from the floor as they watched the deficit grow from one to seven by the end of the contest.
It wasn’t pretty for the Bulls top three players, all of whom missed a shot in that final 1:36 of the game when the Bulls failed to score. DeMar DeRozan was 6-of-25 from the field in what was a departure from his outstanding regular season while Zach LaVine was 6-of-19 from the field.
Nikola Vucevic was able to shake off some early woes to get a team-high 24 points along with 17 rebounds, but even he missed a floater and a put-back in the final minute that could have kept the Bulls in the game.
“I don’t know what the hell was going on. Probably a week off,” said DeRozan of his shooting performance. “It just wasn’t me, all of us. We’ve just got to get that feel. It’s fine. Every shot I took felt good. I guarantee that me, Zach, or Vooch ain’t gonna miss that many shots again.
“We’ve just gotta keep what we did defensively up and try to take that to another level.”
If they can, it could allow them to be more competitive in a series that many envisioned as one heavily slanted in Milwaukee’s favor. The Bucks only shot 40.5 percent from the floor while they committed 21 turnovers, with the Bulls’ defense being a factor in that happening.
The 93 points were the fewest allowed by the Bulls since a 101-91 win over the Cavaliers on March 12th.
“They made a couple more winning plays at the end than we did at the end,” said LaVine. “I think we had opportunities to make those, we were in the right position, but, you know, it’s tough. After that first little run there in the first quarter we fought back and we let them know that we are here.
“So I think it’s going to be a good match-up.”
It could have been a bit in the Bulls’ favor had they been able to make a couple more shots down the stretch.