MILWAUKEE—Giannis Antetokounmpo almost drew a technical foul in utter celebration after gliding down the sideline from the bench. Teammate Tony Snell slipped behind a napping Bulls defense for a dunk that put the Milwaukee Bucks up 27 points late in the second quarter.
The officials might have been the only thing to stop the athletic wonder on this night, because the Bulls had no answer for him.
Despite a late and spirited comeback, the Bulls’ lack of effort for most of the night came back to haunt them on the scoreboard as they dropped their second straight on the first night of a road-home back-to-back against the Bucks, 108-97 at the BMO Bradley Center.
Antetokounmpo, the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, only did his damage in two categories with 30 points and 14 rebounds, as Milwaukee shot 55 percent from 3 and tallied 32 assists.
Chicago native Jabari Parker scored 28 with five rebounds, three assists and two steals, owning a few of the Bucks’ 19 dunks.
After Fred Hoiberg promised lineup changes with the reserves—with Nikola Mirotic taking a seat in place of Bobby Portis, getting a “DNP-CD” on the scoresheet for the first time in his career, and Denzel Valentine getting some run in Isaiah Canaan’s place—the moves proved to be fruitless as they contributed next to no impact until late and neither did the Bulls’ main players.
“The meetings we had the last two days, I hoped it would’ve been solved,” Hoiberg said. “To play a half game or two-quarter game, in Minnesota it was a quarter-and-a-half. Tonight we played a full quarter the way you have to play a whole game.”
Dwyane Wade was a minus-28 and Rajon Rondo struggled defensively in his return after a one-game absence with a sprained ankle. Taj Gibson scored 19 and Jimmy Butler put in 21, but it was tangible effort that was missing when just a little bit could’ve resulted in a more competitive contest.
Despite falling to 13-12, Wade isn’t pushing the panic button just yet.
“I’m not concerned, I’ve been through everything. You might want to ask someone else that,” Wade said. “It’s my first season here. I’m learning this team, learning the guys. It’s things you see happening you want to correct but you have to go through the process. We’re learning how tough it is to win these games.”
It’s tough when you spot the other team 24 points as the Bulls did with the Bucks. With Wade leading the way, they cut it to 12 midway though the fourth and then to nine on a Doug McDermott triple with 4:13 left.
But being forced to play perfect on the road usually doesn’t bode well, as Butler had two late drives thwarted by blocked shots at the rim, and Matthew Dellavedova turned out the lights with a triple with 1:34 left to put the Bucks up, 108-97.
“They were too comfortable early,” Hoiberg said. “We don’t want to give them dare shots.”
It was an instant replay of the worst kind—as Antekounmpo and Parker replaced Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on the “we've got athletes, you don’t” meter that inevitably gives the Bulls problems showed up in waves.
“Turnovers,” said Wade of the Bulls problems that began it all. “It’s tough to get back when you have two bulls in Jabari and the Greek Freak (Antetokounmpo). You have turnovers or you shoot long shots and they get it and they’re going.”
Mostly, though, it was the Bulls’ lack of effort that did them in, an attribute that was evident from the tip when the Bucks jumped out to a 16-8 lead in the first few minutes.
“We didn’t do our job early,” Butler said. “The game got out of hand. You love the way we fought back. Guys didn’t give up.”
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Their early disinterest for the night was exploited by Antetokounmpo and Parker, a tough matchup on a good day, decided to start hitting outside shots in addition to running past and jumping over the Bulls.
“They made eight threes in the first half. That’s not on the scouting report,” Wade said. “They got transition points. They got everything they wanted in the first half.”
The dunks came in waves, as the Bulls looked flat-footed defensively and uninspired offensively, turning the ball over six times in the first quarter and surrendering 10 fast-break points.
“You talk about the things you have to do to survive in a game like this: taking care of the basketball and get back in transition,” Hoiberg said.
The onslaught continued throughout, even though Parker and Antetokounmpo already outscored the Bulls in the first quarter.
Antetokounmpo was too quick for Taj Gibson, Butler or anybody the Bulls have employed currently. Parker hasn’t exactly lived up to his draft billing in his first couple of seasons but this year, he’s started to put it together and Thursday, the Bulls saw the entire package.
The open floor moves, the jumpers and even some explosiveness at the rim as a couple Bulls unfortunately had to experience to believe. It was ugly early and throughout, until the Bulls showed a little pride.
But there’s not much to be proud of when things look like an instant replay—of their last game, of last season.