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Chicago Bulls fall apart in chippy 16-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks: ‘We let our frustrations get the best of us’

The Chicago Bulls boiled over in the second half of a 113-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, giving up a slew of technical and flagrant fouls as they stumbled into a 16-point blowout.

It was always going to be a contentious game. The United Center was sold out for a late-night special, including a thunderous contingent of Milwaukee Bucks fans. And the opposing roster was filled with familiar faces — former Bulls Patrick Beverley and Bobby Portis — who were guaranteed to rile up fans and players.

Coach Billy Donovan said he could feel the discontent brewing in the first quarter, cautioning officials to get the physicality under control to avoid unnecessary fouls. But the game remained tense until the final 31 seconds of the third quarter, when the Bulls lost control — and, in the process, the game.

The meltdown started when DeMar DeRozan took offense to Portis staring him down after a play. It was a brief moment but it was enough to prompt an immediate response from DeRozan, who had been vocal on a chippy night.

DeRozan went at Portis, ramming into the forward in the open court. The foul earned a flagrant-1 violation — and an ensuing argument from DeRozan resulted in a technical foul.

“As long as I play the game, I’m big on respect,” DeRozan said. “I don’t play the whole games, staring down somebody, trying to disrespect nobody. I’m all about competing, doing your thing, but if I feel anything is disrespectful in any type of way, I don’t accept that.

“I wouldn’t do that to nobody else. It’s just my respect of the game.”

The break between quarters could have cooled things off. Instead, the tension escalated in the ensuing three minutes of game time.

Alex Caruso picked up a technical foul for arguing with the referees within the first 70 seconds of the fourth quarter. And 90 seconds later, Nikola Vučević took out his frustration on A.J. Green, swinging his hands into the Bucks guard as he attempted a layup, earning a flagrant-2 foul and an ejection.

At that point, it was over for the Bulls. They already were struggling against the staggering size of the Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. With Vučević out of commission, the Bulls had little left to slow the onslaught in the paint.

Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 46 points on 16-for-22 shooting. He added 16 rebounds and six assists.

“It was just a little frustration,” Vučević said. “Not just the no-calls, just built up from us having a little bit of a rough game. That was just tough. We felt like we were doing some pretty good things. We just let our frustrations get the best of us for a little bit.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss.

1. Patrick Beverley acts as an instigator

Few things are more consistent than Beverley’s presence at the start and end of a scuffle on the court.

The Chicago native and Marshall alumnus helped spark frustrations in the second half, draping himself over DeRozan on defense and chirping at opponents during every dead ball.

And he relished in the aftermath of the technicals and ejection, scoring eight consecutive points in the fourth quarter before turning to Bulls fans to shout “This is my city” as he walked back to the Bucks bench. Beverley clapped loudly at every foul called against the Bulls and hit the “too small” gesture on rookie Julian Phillips on back-to-back plays.

“We know him,” DeRozan said after the loss. “That’s Pat. We let our own frustration take over everything else. It kind of seemed like we was directing it towards one person specifically on their team and we just thought we weren’t getting good calls.”

2. Shooting remains stagnant

The Bulls aren’t much of a 3-point-shooting team, but improvements in consistency from players such as Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have helped to close the margins on offense this season. Those improvements have stalled, however, as the Bulls struggle through a shooting slump after the All-Star break.

Friday’s performance was a slight step forward as the Bulls went 11-for-27 from 3-point range; White was 2-for-5 and Caruso 3-for-6. But the Bulls are still performing below their pre-All-Star average of 11.8 makes from 3-point range per game.

3. A diminished milestone

It was mostly a night to forget for DeRozan, who showed signs of wear-and-tear from playing more minutes than any other player in the NBA this season besides White. DeRozan finished with 12 points and nine assists, sitting for most of the fourth quarter for some much-needed rest.

But the game also included a small piece of history for DeRozan, who became the 35th player in NBA history to reach 23,000 career points. He is one of only six active players to reach the milestone.