MILWAUKEE – Just a week ago there was hope that the team could rediscover the magic they had in the first part of their season and take a major step toward being a factor in the race for an NBA championship.
But reality set in over the course of two games in Chicago and 48 minutes on Wednesday night in Milwaukee. The Bulls weren’t ready to go toe-to-toe with the defending champion Bucks on the big stage of the playoffs just yet, and while they were able to get one win in Game 2, that would be all for this postseason.
What seemed like a formality occurred the way many thought it would on Wednesday night in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum as Milwaukee made quick work of a shorthanded Bulls team. The Bucks led by 16 after the first quarter and were rarely challenged after that in a 116-100 victory that clinched their first round series and eliminated their Central Division foe.
It puts an end to a Bulls’ season that was a breakthrough in many ways for a team that was outside of the postseason looking in since 2017. A strong first four months of the season had them tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break, but stiffer competition led to a slip in performance as they fell to 46-36 and a sixth-seed in the Eastern Conference.
That’s why the Bulls were such a heavy underdog in their first round series with the Bucks who swept them in four games in the regular season. But Billy Donovan’s team was up to the challenge in the first two contests, staying close in Game 1 then pulling out Game 2 for their first playoff victory in five years.
But an assertive Milwaukee team used their experience and depth to overwhelm the Bulls in Game 3 by 30 points and Game 4 by 24 at the United Center to take control of the series. The final contest between the teams played out similarly as the Bulls had to play without Zach LaVine (NBA health and safety protocol) and Alex Caruso (NBA concussion protocol).
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks wasted little time getting out to a big lead as they led 34-18 after the first quarter then 60-42 at halftime. Antetokounmpo hit 8-of-9 shots from the floor with 23 of his game-high 33 points in the first two quarters and the Bulls weren’t able to catch up.
Patrick Williams scored a playoff-high 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting including four three-pointers to lead the Bulls offensively. Nikola Vucevic had 19 with a team-high 16 rebounds while Coby White had 17 points off the bench.
DeMar DeRozan was once again more on the distributing end as he took just ten shots and scored 11 points while dishing out seven assists with plenty of attention paid to him by Milwaukee defenders. Ayo Dosunmu had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with three rebounds and an assist in his first playoff start.
Unfortunately for him and the Bulls, another chance at the postseason will have to wait for another season, as the Bucks’ showed their championship form while their opponents proved how much they still have to improve to reach that level.