The Milwaukee Bucks got into Game 3 of a best-of-seven streak against the Chicago Bulls Friday night without the services of All-Star winger Khris Middleton, and frankly, it didn’t make any difference. Milwaukee dominated Chicago from start to finish with the Bucks eventually winning 111-81 at United Center to take a 2-1 lead.
Milwaukee had five players finished winning after scoring 10 or more points with Grayson Allen leading the attack with 22 points off the bench. Giannis Antetokounmpo played only 29 minutes but managed to finish the match with 18 points for nine assists and seven rebounds. On the other hand, Nikola Vucevic led Chicago with 19 points but needed 17 shots to reach that point.
Here are the four main points of the game:
1. Lock bucks in defensive
The Bucks have had some issues on the defensive end this season, and they appeared again earlier this week in Game 2, where DeMar DeRozan lost 41 points and the Bulls fired nearly 50 percent of the field. They have a knack for being elite at that end, though, and in Game 3 we’ve seen what happens when they ramp up.
A few minutes into the first quarter. Jrue Holiday was matched with DeRozan, who attempted to use a screen from Nikola Vucevic. Holiday wasn’t getting that and slipped between DeRozan and Vucevic to blow that option up. Then DeRozan changed direction and tried to turn left, but Holiday was also everywhere and choked him picking up his dribble. When DeRozan tried to find a passing space, Holiday knocked the ball down and went from coast to coast to make the pass.
Plays like this from Holiday set the tone for the night, as the Bucks harassed bulls all over the land, and did so without pollution. Holiday and Wesley Matthews gave DeRozan to 11 points in nine field goal attempts, and the Bulls fired 39.3 percent from the field as a team. Nothing was easy for the bulls at any point in time, evidenced by the fact that they couldn’t even get to the free throw line. The Bulls’ 10 free throw attempts were the second fewest free throw attempts in any game this season.
2. No Middleton, no problem
Late in Game Two, Khris Middleton slipped on a wet spot on the floor of the Fiserv Forum and injured his MCL. He’s now out for the remainder of the series, and will likely be part of the second round if the Bucks can get that far. To make sure Middleton gets a chance to play again this season, they’ll need the supporting cast to go up like they did Friday night.
Mike Budenholzer decided to go big and set up Bobby Portes in Middleton’s place. It turned out to be a smart move, as Portis scored eight points in the first five minutes to help the Bucks open a huge lead they would never give up. Portis, who missed Game 2 himself after taking his elbow in his eye and now plays with goggles, finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds on a massive outing.
He wasn’t the only one who had a great night. Grayson Allen, public enemy No. 1 in Chicago for his blatant pre-season blunder against Alex Caruso, silenced the United Center crowd with a stellar shooting show. He defeated five points 3 on his way to 22 points and six rebounds.
The overall bench stats are skewed because there is a lot of trash time, so we’ll just focus on Portis, Allen and Pat Connaughton. These three, who will count on them the most in the absence of Middleton, collected 51 points, 28 rebounds and 11 made 3 throws. That’s probably the most that the Bucks can expect from them on any given night, but if they can get 60-70 percent of that output, it will go a long way toward covering Middleton.
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3. Dollars regain control with championship-level performance
The Bucks didn’t look like the defending champions in games 1 and 2. Even given that they missed some open shots, the attack was arduous, they were very sloppy with the ball (36 combined spins in the first two games) and there were some holes on the defensive end – especially in Game 2.
Most still expected them to win the series, but with Middleton wearing street clothes, there were suddenly a lot of questions about how things would go. Not so much anymore, as the Bucks roamed United Center and snatched the home yard advantage back from the Bulls with a dominant championship-level performance.
If you’re a fan of the Bucks, this is exactly the kind of show you’ve been hoping to see. Not only did they win Game 3, but they handed the Bulls the worst homegrown playoff loss in franchise history.
4. A shout out to Luca Vildossa
In a move that probably went unnoticed by everyone outside Milwaukee, the Bucks signed 26-year-old Argentine goalkeeper Luca Vildosa shortly before the end of the regular season. On Friday night, with the game approaching the middle of the fourth quarter, he finally managed to make his NBA debut.
He took full advantage, putting in a display en route to three points, three assists and two steals in eight minutes of work. His NBA highlight reel is already off to a great start thanks to this acrobatic pass to Jordan Nwora.
This dish is behind the back of Thanasis Antetokounmpo for the Slam.
Vildoza is unlikely to play any meaningful minutes for the rest of the playoffs, but this was a great cameo. He will be a player to watch next season.
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