Bulls put up a fight in Game 1 but fall late to defending champion Bucks

After withstanding a dismal first quarter, the Bulls actually went toe-to-toe with the Bucks and even put themselves in position to tie or win the game late.

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The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo tries to get past the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic during the first half of Game 1.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo tries to get past the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic during the first half of Game 1.

Morry Gash/AP

MILWAUKEE — Guard Zach LaVine has no idea how the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the defending NBA champion Bucks will end up playing out. He made that clear after their 93-86 loss in Game 1 on Sunday.

But he did feel good about something.

‘‘We let them know that we were here,’’ LaVine said.

It wasn’t something the Bulls often did against the Bucks in getting swept 4-0 during the regular season, nor was it a message they sent to most of the NBA’s elite.

But LaVine was holding on to the idea that the Bulls withstood a Bucks flurry out of the gate and could have let go of the rope, like they have so often in the last month. Instead, they were actually in position to win down the stretch.

With the Bulls trailing by three with 59 seconds left, center Nikola Vucevic just missed a floater. He grabbed his own rebound, but his putback rimmed out in heartbreaking fashion.

‘‘Yeah, it was one of those that before I even shot, I kind of already saw it go in, [but] it just rimmed out,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘Obviously a tough one, especially at that moment of the game. Could have cut it down to one. It doesn’t mean we would have won, but still. At that moment, [if] you cut it down to one . . . . It happens. It’s part of the playoffs.’’

No problem. Like it did for most of the second half Sunday, the defense stiffened and gave the Bulls another shot with just less than 30 seconds left. LaVine, who is always confident with his shot-making ability, pulled up from 31 feet for a potential tying three-pointer that hit the back of the rim.

Coach Billy Donovan said he wanted to review the film to see whether LaVine should have attacked the rim for a two-pointer, but he indicated he liked LaVine’s attempt from his angle.

So did LaVine.

‘‘I thought it was a good shot; a lot of my shots I thought were good,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘We were down three, got a really clean look. [Bucks center] Brook [Lopez] was six feet back. Probably one of the cleanest looks I had on the night. Just hit the back of the rim.’’

That was a common theme for the Bulls’ ‘‘Big Three’’: a lot of good shots and could-have-beens.

That’s how forward DeMar DeRozan finished 6-for-25, LaVine went 6-for-19 and Vucevic shot 9-for-27. That’s a combined 21-for-71 (29.6%) on a night in which the Bucks were nearly as bad in the shooting department (10-for-38 from three-point range).

‘‘Yeah, I don’t know what the hell is going on . . . probably a week off,’’ DeRozan said of his woes. ‘‘But it just wasn’t me; [it was] all of us. We’ve just got to get that feel. I guarantee me, Zach and [Vucevic] ain’t going to miss that many shots again. We’ve just got to do what we did defensively and keep that up.

‘‘Most of the shots I took were wide-open — wide-open. I’ll live with them again. No way in hell I shoot 6-for-25 again.’’

The Bulls better hope not.

So with all the bad numbers to come out of the Bulls’ first playoff game since 2017, what was LaVine counting on?

The Bulls overcame a 9-0 deficit to start the game and a terrible first quarter, then stood toe-to-toe with the champs after that.

‘‘[If] you can’t learn from it, then obviously it’s going to bite us in the ass,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘But I thought we did a good job fighting. I think it’s going to be a good matchup.’’

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