5 observations: Bucks hand Bulls franchise's largest home playoff loss

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5 observations: Bucks rout Bulls to take 2-1 series lead originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls entered Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the Bucks speaking of a back against the wall mentality.

“Us coming off a win and them coming off a loss is crucial, because they're gonna be coming in with a hungry mentality and you don't want human nature to set in and take a step back,” Zach LaVine said after the team’s morning shootaround. “We gotta come in like we're down.”

Now, they have no choice but to play that way. The Bucks stormed into the United Center and handed the Bulls their most lopsided home playoff loss in franchise history on Friday by a score of 111-81. They now lead the series 2-1.

Here are five observations:

Bucks go big

Mike Budenholzer slid Bobby Portis into the starting lineup in place of the injured Khris Middleton, opting for a monstrous first-unit front line along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.

Portis, who played with protective goggles after suffering an eye abrasion in Game 2, immediately delivered on his coach’s trust.

The former Bulls forward came out firing in the first quarter, raining his first two 3s and a midrange jumper en route to eight points in the game’s first four minutes. He was a big part of the Bucks jumping on the Bulls early, eventually leading 33-17 entering the second quarter.

The highlights didn’t stop there. Portis’ night finished with 18 points, plus a game-high 16 rebounds. And he drove the final nail into the Bulls coffin with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the third quarter. That bucket put the visitors ahead 90-59, and prompted a shimmy.

"He stepped up and he made big plays," LaVine said of Portis. "He did his job. We're gonna have to adjust if that's how they're gonna go moving forward. We gotta meet force with force."

One-sided bench battle

Middleton’s injury figured to thrust multiple Milwaukee role players into roles of expanded importance, but no two more so than Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton.

Although Budenholzer opted for Portis in the starting lineup, both of those wings were heard from.

Allen’s impact was immense. He made his first three 3-pointers, and at halftime, led all scorers with 14 off the bench. He also reached the 20-point threshold before any other player with an and-one layup over Tristan Thompson late in the third quarter.

By night’s end, his 22 points (5-for-7 from 3-point range) was more than any Bulls player, including Nikola Vučević (19), LaVine (15) and DeMar DeRozan (11).

Meanwhile, the Bulls’ reserves scored just five points in the first three quarters before garbage time took hold to start the fourth. All of those came via Coby White, who was largely a detriment. He shot 2-for-9 (1-for-6 from 3-point range) and fouled Connaughton on a 3-point attempt during the Bucks’ first quarter run.

In all, Milwaukee clobbered the Bulls in the bench points battle by a 29-5 margin in pre-garbage time minutes.

Defensive dominance

The Bucks shored up a few areas that combined to bog down the Bulls’ offense. For one, they committed just 10 turnovers (six through three quarters), which slowed the Bulls’ pace. And they were lasered in executing their paint-packing defensive scheme.

Case and point: The Bulls scored 10 combined points in the paint (10) and on the fastbreak (0) in the first half, and visited the free-throw line just once on a DeRozan and-one layup. Their avenues to the rim were cut off entirely, while the Bucks dominated the interior as the game endured.

The Bulls’ offensive attack skewing to the perimeter played into the Bucks’ hands. The hosts shot just 9-for-34 from 3-point range in the game — a regression from going 12-for-25 in Game 2 — and struggled for consistent marksmanship. After sinking his first two 3-point attempts, Vučević finished the game by missing six of seven. Alex Caruso made his first three and missed his last two. White went 0-for-6, Patrick Williams 0-for-4 (he missed all nine of his field-goal attempts in a brutal performance) and Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green and Troy Brown Jr. combined for 0-for-6.

Defending DeMar

Fresh off a playoff career-high 41 points, DeRozan scored 11 points on just nine field-goal attempts in this one.

Credit that in part for him not seeing the floor in the fourth quarter. But also credit the Bucks’ defense for adjusting to his midrange mastery.

Not only did Wesley Matthews and Jrue Holiday continue to play physical individual defense on the Bulls’ star, the Bucks also loaded up on DeRozan's downhill drives and forced him left early and often.

"I wasn't frustrated. I knew they were gonna make adjustments," DeRozan said. "Got a feel for it throughout the game, but by the time I got a feel for it they got it rolling offensively. You gotta give them credit, now it's on us to make our adjustments."

LaVine received similar treatment en route to 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

Crabby crowd

Friday marked the Bulls’ home playoff game since 2017, and the United Center crowd responded in turn. There was a loud electricity in the crowd from pregame introductions to opening tip.

But the Bucks quickly sucked the air from the building. A 33-17 first quarter killed the noise, and separate 13-0 runs in the second and third quarters deadened the vibe more. By the third, the Bulls were even hearing some boos — most pronouncedly after Jones Jr. followed a Billy Donovan timeout by fumbling a pass to DeRozan out of bounds. Matthews hit a 3-pointer on the next possessions to push the Bucks ahead 73-44.

Early in the fourth, as the benches took over and the Bucks pulled ahead by as many as 37, there was a mass exodus.

Next up: After a quick turnaround, back in Chicago for Game 4 at noon on Sunday.

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