Milwaukee snapped a 15-game losing streak to Central Division opponents dating back nearly a year, and kept Chicago winless through the first week of the season.
Hounded by defensive lapses in their first two games, the Bucks held the Bulls in check on a miserable night for Chicago’s starters. Ben Gordon scored 15, but the rest of the starting five—Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Wallace and Kirk Hinrich—were held to single digits.
“It’s important for us to take a little bit of this and bottle it up,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Because if we play with that kind of focus and energy on the defensive (end) consistently, then we’ll have an opportunity to make some strides.”
But Bulls coach Scott Skiles saw plenty of open shots available to his players. They just didn’t knock many of them down.
“We just don’t look like we’re real confident right now, and it shouldn’t be that way at this level,” Skiles said.
Shot after open shot clanked off the rim for the Bulls. Deng was 4-for-11 from the floor, Hinrich 3-for-12. Hinrich described the offense as “helter-skelter” and said the Bulls simply don’t have any composure.
And, so far, they don’t have a win through their first three games.
“It is tough,” Deng said. “It’s something we didn’t expect. Now that we’re here, we’ve got to find a way to get out of it.”
Redd led the Bucks in scoring, but Yi’s good first impression on his new hometown fans stood out the most.
“He took the challenge and made some huge shots and became a playmaker,” said Redd, who bowed with his hands together in a salute to Yi just before the opening tip. “I’m proud of his development. He’s growing.”
Yi played a key role in keeping Milwaukee in the game in the second half.
His jumper tied the game at 37 with 7:39 left in the third quarter. Milwaukee’s Dan Gadzuric blocked the Bulls’ Thomas on the other end, and Bucks guard Mo Williams found Yi with a pass for another long rainbow jumper that put the Bucks ahead 39-37.
With Milwaukee trailing by two later in the quarter, Yi blocked a shot by Thomas and Redd hit a jumper to tie the game at 43.
“There’s been an awful lot of focus on this young man, and the whole process is a marathon,” Krystkowiak said. “This is big for his confidence. … It’s only one game, but I’m really proud of him.”
Speaking with only occasional help from an interpreter, the Chinese star said he recognized the importance of the Bucks’ home opener.
“This game for our team was very important,” Yi said. “First home game, opening game and we lost two in a row, so we’ve got to win.”
The Bucks began the season by losing their first two games on the road, at Orlando on Wednesday and at Charlotte on Friday. They allowed too many open shots to the Magic, and couldn’t stop the Bobcats from driving to the rim.
Chicago also opened the season with a pair of losses, at New Jersey on Wednesday and at home to Philadelphia on Friday.
The Bulls might have been distracted by a swarm of trade rumors involving a potential deal with the Los Angeles Lakers that would have brought Kobe Bryant to Chicago. But Bulls general manager John Paxson declared on Thursday that no deal was imminent, scuttling trade talk at least for the time being.
Wallace said he wasn’t surprised by the 0-3 start, because the Bulls had chances to win each game and didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
“We’ve just got to play through it, that’s all,” he said.
The Bucks have won their last five home openers. … Joe Smith scored 14 for Chicago. … Bucks center Andrew Bogut was limited by foul trouble, but delivered three key scores in the final six minutes of the game to help keep Milwaukee in the lead.