MILWAUKEE --- Thursday night marked a winnable game against a quality opponent. And in the crucial moments, the Bulls again came up small.
There’s no other way to paint the Bucks’ 124-115 victory on a night they shot 6-for-23 from 3-point range and committed 22 turnovers. The game was there for the taking. The Bulls even survived a shaky third quarter to make it a one-possession game in the final 2 minutes, something coach Jim Boylen pointed to as a sign of growth.
But this was the year the Bulls’ growth was supposed to be marked by victories, not moral victories. Quality opponent or not, the Bulls couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.
With Wendell Carter Jr. already fouled out and Lauri Markkanen battling foul trouble much of the night, Boylen matched the Bucks’ small lineup that featured Giannis Antetokounmpo at center with a small lineup of his own.
That lineup even featured Ryan Arcidiacono guarding Antetokounmpo for stretches---and faring pretty well. Antetokounmpo, guarded by Arcidiacono, missed a midrange shot that Eric Bledsoe snuck past Zach LaVine and Coby White to rebound and putback with 1 minute, 33 seconds left for a five-point Bucks’ lead.
“It was a loose ball. I thought I had it. I didn’t see Bledsoe coming,” White said. “And he grabbed it.”
White was on the weakside, with Bledsoe blowing past his defender LaVine to post one of 17 offensive rebounds. Furthering a season-long problem area, the Bulls finished minus-13 in the rebounding department.
“There were a lot of positives,” Markkanen said. “Obviously, we couldn’t finish the game. But we had good looks at the end. We need a couple more rebounds. We did get the needed stops at the end but they got the second chance and got to the line and that was the game.”
Markkanen didn’t score in the second half, taking just two shots.
“I thought he was aggressive. I thought he tried to play the right way. He was using a lot of energy on defense. He had five fouls for most of the second half,” Boylen said. “He’s trying to help us win. There’s more to the game than making shots. And I thought he tried to do the other things.”
On a night that White got it going again, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to make at least five 3-pointers in consecutive games, Markkanen attempted just nine shots. White, who finished with 26 points but shot 2-for-12 in the second half, took 23 shots. LaVine, who later fouled out, scored 25 points on 20 shots.
“Just wasn’t there, man,” Markkanen said. “Obviously it helps if you make shots and we had guys who had it going. Coby played great again. Zach was his own self. I think they kind of kept going and that’s what we did.
“It always makes it easier when you have people who can score. Defense has to focus on them. And it’s going to give me more room. It’s not a problem.”
Except it kind of is. Markkanen has now taken 10 shots or fewer in seven of 12 games.
“I’m not going to make a big deal about the shots. We had open looks all over the place as a team,” Boylen said. “Maybe it’s because they were guarding him and other people were open. That happens in a game. We don’t talk about, ‘This guy has to get this many shots.’ We play basketball. And I thought he tried to play basketball.”
Arcidiacono relished his assignment on the reigning MVP.
“I actually thought I did a decent job. I made him miss a tough, midrange 2. We just weren’t able to get the rebound. Bledsoe got an offensive board and a putback,” Arcidiacono said. “Just tried to be physical with him. He’s a tough assignment for anybody. And I know I’m giving up a ton of size and athleticism and basically everything. But you try to be physical and I thought I did a decent job. We weren’t able to get the rebound. That’s on everyone and me as well.”
Another game of missed opportunities. It’s happening with too much frequency, particularly in the fourth quarters.
“It’s frustrating,” Markkanen said. “Obviously, this is a very good team. It was a winnable game for us. And we came in with the mindset that we were going to get the win. We were right there but couldn’t make the couple needed plays.”
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