Bulls on brink of playoff elimination after another loss to Bucks
The Bulls will face elimination Wednesday night in Milwaukee, down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series to the defending NBA champions.
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan came to the podium after the game Sunday against the defending champion Bucks still in full uniform and still hanging on to hope.
The way he sees it, until one team reaches four victories in the first-round playoff series, there are still punches to be thrown. Even if they are hitting little but air at this point.
‘‘You can’t show panic,’’ DeRozan said. ‘‘You have to show that where there’s a will, there’s a way. We’ve still got an opportunity. All it takes is one game at a time. Got a couple of days before we play again [Wednesday]. Kind of regroup mentally, emotionally, physically and just look forward to the challenge.
‘‘[The Bucks have] been through it. They’re a championship team for a reason.’’
Thanks to 32 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 27 from reserve Grayson Allen, the Bucks put the Bulls on the brink of elimination with a 119-95 victory in Game 4 at the United Center.
The series now goes back to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Wednesday, with the Bucks holding a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
‘‘It’s one game at a time,’’ Bulls guard Zach LaVine said. ‘‘Obviously you can look at it [in the] big picture, and obviously we’re down. But they’ve won each game one game at a time. Don’t try and hit a home run; hit a single.’’
It’s a good mentality to have, but the Bulls didn’t show that in Games 3 and 4.
In Games 1 and 2, the Bulls made the Bucks earn everything. They didn’t treat their stars like stars, playing physical defense against Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton.
But something happened after Middleton’s knee injury in Game 2. Instead of the Bulls taking advantage of being tied 1-1 and the Bucks being down one of their best players for the rest of the series, things swung the other way.
Former Bulls forward — and NBA irritant — Bobby Portis has that effect. Portis taking Middleton’s spot in the starting lineup seemingly has given the Bucks an energy and fire they didn’t show early in the series. He also has given the smaller Bulls issues at both ends of the floor.
Portis had 14 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4, but he also has opened up the Bucks’ outside shooting with his ability to post up, then kick the ball out to open shooters when the double-team comes.
What was even more impressive Sunday, however, was the second pass to the open side the Bucks were willing to make to find a player such as Holiday or Allen open.
Allen shot 10-for-12 from the field, including 6-for-7 from three-point range. He was the player who altered the Bulls’ regular season when his flagrant-2 foul on guard Alex Caruso during a game in January sidelined him for months with a fractured right wrist.
Now he was inflicting pain again, this time with his shooting.
‘‘You’ve gotta give something up,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘You have to give [Allen] credit [because] he’s hitting shots. Obviously, we know what happened [with Caruso]. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball. We understand it. It’s not like we’re going out there and saying, ‘That guy can’t beat us.’ The Milwaukee Bucks can’t beat us, and he’s part of their team. Them as a whole, they’re beating us right now.’’
LaVine scored 24 points and DeRozan 23, but both players know much more will be needed in Game 5.
‘‘We just need to fight them and stay with it,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’m not particularly ready to go home.’’