Bulls tie playoff series behind DeMar DeRozan’s 41 points

Thanks to a stifling defense and 41 points from DeMar DeRozan, the visiting Bulls beat the Bucks for the first time this season, and at the most important time. They now go back to Chicago for Game 3 on Friday, and a chance to take control against the defending champions.

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The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan shoots over the Bucks’ Wesley Matthews Wednesday night.

The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan shoots over the Bucks’ Wesley Matthews Wednesday night.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE — Confidence hasn’t been an issue for Patrick Williams since the day the Bulls made him the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Assertiveness on the offensive side of the ball, showing up late for a shootaround, consistent availability, now those are where there’s been a few stumbles for the power forward, but not in the confidence department.

That was on full display Wednesday, when Williams was discussing his ongoing showdown of drawing the Giannis Antetokounmpo defensive assignment.

“It’s the same way you get ready for anybody else,” Williams said. “First of all don’t be scared. I feel like a lot of people in this league are scared or nervous to guard guys like that. Obviously [Antetokounmpo’s] good, he’s a two-time MVP, but he puts his pants on the same way I do. So just knowing that, he’s good but he’s not God.”

Brash words from the second-year player who still wasn’t old enough to get in any Wisconsin drinking establishments, but then backed it up in the Game 2, 114-110 Bulls win.

Thanks to Williams and the execution of a stellar defensive game plan, the Bulls made life as difficult as a team can on Antetokounmpo, evening the best-of-seven first-round series 1-1.

It was not only the first time the Bulls beat Milwaukee this season, but the first time they beat a team with a winning percentage over .600 since Nov. 10.

And as far as Antetokounmpo? He wasn’t a “God.” He wasn’t even the best player on the floor. That was Bulls veteran DeMar DeRozan, who set a new playoff career high with 41 points on 16-of-31 shooting.

Antetokounmpo did finish with 33 points and 18 rebounds, but the effort he had to put in on both ends of the floor was seemingly draining.

Even more impressive, the Bulls not only matched the defensive intensity from Game 1, but turned it up a notch. While Williams had Antetokounmpo most of the night, it was Alex Caruso who seemed to have everyone else.

“We got our spirit back,” Caruso said of the defense that’s been played by the Bulls in this series. “I think I said it the other day, it’s the playoffs. If you gotta get up for the playoffs, you probably shouldn’t play. You’re going to do the things that it takes to win.”

When asked about the improved engagement team-wide on the defensive end, Caruso replied, “Can you tell? Yeah, we can tell. I think everybody can tell. I think it shows. You don’t have a chance against these guys if you don’t play defense.”

That was apparent early on, as the Bulls set the tempo with a 9-0 run to start the game, but was really tested in the third when the Bucks cut the 18-point deficit to just three. DeRozan stayed hot, but the defense stifled the run, and within minutes the lead was back up to 16 with 9:47 left in the fourth.

A lead the Bulls wouldn’t relinquish.

As for the defending champions, they are suddenly in some trouble. Khris Middleton left the game with a sprained MCL and was headed for an MRI on Thursday, while Bobby Portis had an injured eye early in the game and couldn’t return.

The Bucks continued turning the ball over, and looked lost on offense with all the defensive coverages coach Billy Donovan and his staff have been throwing at them.

“When you play against a team with great players, really good personnel, they’re going to have good schemes,” Donovan said. “If you show the same thing over and over and over, after a while they get a beat on it. There’s things we’re definitely doing in certain areas of the floor.

“The week of preparation coming into the first two games here was really good.’’

As for DeRozan, he summed Game 2 up perfectly.

“It doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season,” DeRozan said. “It’s a brand new start, brand new mindset. You can see it in all the guys. It doesn’t matter if we lost 20 times to [Milwaukee], this is a new opportunity to compete and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

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