The Chicago Bulls opened their six-game trip on Wednesday with a 118-113 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum, fueled by DeMar DeRozan’s 36 points and two whopping 3-pointers on the stretch from Coby White.
With back-to-back wins over the Boston Celtics and Bucks, the Bulls (8-10) showed they had the knack to compete with the league’s top teams despite their lackluster start to the season. But the toughest part of the season is just around the corner and they must continue to play aggressively to avoid disappointment.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s victory.
1. A clutch win at last
The Bulls were 0-7 in “clutch” games, defined as those with a margin of five points and five minutes or less left to play. With a 10-point lead and 10 minutes to play, the Bulls were in control until Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo began to assert himself in the paint, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter to give the Bucks a late advance.
But a White 3-pointer tied the game with 1 minute and 15 seconds left, and after Alex Caruso persuaded Antetokounmpo to charge, White netted another 3-pointer to put the Bulls back in front. Defensive consistency was key to retaining the Bucks.
“We’ve been putting together defensive stops for longer stretches in games, and it shows,” DeRozan told NBC Sports Chicago on the postgame show. “We have to do it, especially when playing against the good teams in this league.”
The victory against the Bucks was also important for the confidence of the team. They had lost 17 of their last 19 to Milwaukee since 2018-19, including last year’s loss in five games in the first round of the playoffs. With a large number of Bulls fans making the trip down I-94, it felt like a home game at times.
2. Coby White has shown he deserves more minutes.
With Goran Dragić injured in his left shoulder, White got long minutes and made them count.
“I tell him all the time, if he misses one, two. three, whatever, keep shooting,” DeRozan told reporters afterward. “He has this ability to get hot, and anytime in the game I’m looking for Cob.”
White missed eight games with a left thigh bruise, then was brought back slowly by coach Billy Donovan the next two. But Ayo Dosunmu committed back-to-back turnovers late in the fourth quarter, White came back with just under four minutes to play to help save the day.
White finished with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including 4 of 7 on 3-pointers, while playing over 25 minutes. He’s averaging 19.6 career minutes over 10 games, which has also affected his 3-point shooting, trying just 4.8 per game and winning 31.3%. Last season, White hit a career-high 38.5% from beyond the arc and averaged 5.8 attempts per game.
With the Bulls having trouble getting off to good starts at the start of the season, perhaps Donovan should replace Dosunmu with White in the starting lineup to see if that can fix the problem.
3. Everyone participated in the 3-point act
The Bulls finished with a season-high 18 3-pointers against the Bucks on 42 attempts, Nikola Vučević adding four and Zach LaVine contributing three. The Bucks entered the game ranked fifth in the league with the fewest 3-point attempts allowed at 31.1 per game, but the Bulls found ways to open someone up and the lead dogs were selfless.
“They moved the ball well and the guys knocked it down,” Bucks guard Grayson Allen told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Usually with this team you kind of want it out of the hands of DeRozan and LaVine. We did it. We weren’t just trying to leave the other guys, but they just moved him around and hit some shots.
4. World Cup fever
One of the funniest moments of the night came when Antetokounmpo collapsed and hit the ground in spectacular fashion after barely being hit in the shoulder by Vučević, who he was covering. “Elizabeth, I’m coming, Elizabeth,” Bulls analyst Stacey King shouted as she described the Greek Freak’s flop.
For those under 60 who had no idea who Elizabeth was, King was referring to the Redd Foxx catchphrase made popular in the 1970s sitcom “Sanford & Son.” Foxx’s character Fred Sanford would fake a seizure heartbeat calling his late wife saying, “Elizabeth, I’m coming to you, honey.”
Play-by-play man Adam Amin also wondered if Antetokounmpo had watched the Qatar World Cup, where flop was rampant in games.
5. Good start for off-circus circus trip
The Bulls no longer have an official “circus trip,” the extended road swing caused by the arrival of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Old Chicago Stadium and United Center.
But the six-game journey that began on Wednesday has the same resonance. The Bulls travel to Oklahoma City on Friday before games against the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. They return home Dec. 7 against the Washington Wizards.
The Bulls went 3-2 on a similar trip last November, including back-to-back wins over the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers after being beaten by the Warriors in San Francisco.
With the Jazz and Kings playing well and the Warriors and Suns a combined 17-2 at home, a 3-3 record on this toughest trip would likely be enough for the Bulls.
But after a thrilling win over the Bucks and facing a rebuilding Thunder squad on Friday, the Bulls can afford to think big.