Fred Hoiberg punched a basketball in disgust as some unusual effort from his team went unrewarded — as Jimmy Butler dove on the floor to retrieve a loose ball, only for Rajon Rondo to throw it to nobody in particular, leading to a Jabari Parker uncontested dunk.
The play wasn’t symbolic of the Bulls’ effort because that would imply the result of the home-and-home set with the Milwaukee Bucks had something to do with tough luck.
The Bulls didn’t show up after being embarrassed Thursday, deciding to test their act out in front of their home floor with a 95-69 drubbing, a third straight loss and one that ranks among the worst showings in the Hoiberg era.
“Coaches, players, we’re all accountable,” Hoiberg said. “Starting with me, I gotta get us playing more consistently.”
Pushed back to .500, the Bulls are seemingly back to square one. Count Butler among those who aren’t the big believers in team meetings and get-togethers to hash things out.
“It’s all hype. We know what we’re capable of. We know what to do,” Butler said. “We gotta go our there and execute. We don’t need to sit in a circle and hold each other’s hands and talk about all of that. We don’t talk that much on the floor, that’s where the problem begins.
“We gotta help each other. We gotta be vocal. We don’t have to feel sorry for ourselves and sit around in a circle and pat each other on the back.”
They weren’t patted on the back by the unforgiving United Center crowd, as it booed though most of the night, especially as the Bucks lead ballooned to 72-44 in the third quarter.
“I don’t wanna hear no boos, nobody in here wanna hear no boos. We’ll be better next game,” Butler said.
If there were any positives, Hoiberg was likely loathe to locate them. The Bulls shot 30 percent, had a season low in points and allowed the Bucks to run all over the floor, with Giannis Antetokounmpo doing chin-ups on the rim with show-off dunks and plays — earning a technical foul for his efforts midway through the fourth quarter with his team up 24 points.
“Collectively we have to find a way to get out of it,” Hoiberg said. “We have to find a way to regroup, we have to do it together and play together through this rough patch, that’s the only way we know how, is to work.”
The law of averages did not work out, as Antetokounmpo scored 22 with 11 assists and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. He routinely worked the Bulls’ bigs in pick and roll situations as the de-facto point guard, finding players like John Henson or Greg Monroe for easy layups.
Six Bucks scored in double figures, and they seemingly showed no fear to the Bulls being a somewhat formidable veteran team, with Monroe scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 boards off the bench.
Emboldened by handling the Bulls for the better part of 40 minutes as opposed to discouraged by not winning by a larger amount, they immediately restarted the dismantling from the outset.
Once again, they were quicker and faster, jumping higher and playing stronger. And with 24 hours to get the Bulls ready and motivated, they conjured next to nothing in the way of meaningful adjustments.
“They got us again with rebounding and turnovers and not getting back and building a wall defensively,” Hoiberg said. “It starts with communication and we’ve taken a step back in that area.”
Whether Hoiberg doesn’t have the horses to perform in the way of the young players or his message isn’t getting across, the Bucks seem to be the perfect team to exploit their weaknesses — a model other teams are sure to follow in the coming weeks as the Bucks ran the Bulls out of their own building, and the Bulls had nothing to fall back on.
“I don’t wanna talk about the gameplan,” Butler said. “That stays in the locker room with all due respect. We didn’t come out and execute or do whatever the gameplan (called for).”
Leading by 19 after the first quarter, the Bucks either made the Bulls quit or the Bulls failed to show up — as Nikola Mirotic didn’t make it to the afternoon walkthrough after he didn’t play Thursday night and Hoiberg likely punished him for this offense by leaving him as the only Bull in uniform not to play.
But it wasn’t like the ones who did play brought anything besides their bodies, as they shot 22 percent in the first quarter and didn’t cross the 30 percent mark until late in the fourth quarter, when members of their roster who have shuffled back and forth from the D-League finished the game.
Butler looked a little slow for the second straight night, scoring just seven points with six assists and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Dwyane Wade scored 12 points on five of 14 shooting.
The Bulls started off December with confidence, buoyed by a strong road mark in November. But midway through a home-laden schedule, one has to wonder if this will get very, very ugly.
“If we don’t believe in ourselves, it can get pretty bad pretty fast,” Butler said.
Indeed, it can.