Bulls’ defense slips late and has no answer for Bucks’ ‘Greek Freak’
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Before the Bulls’ 112-99 loss Monday to the Bucks, coach Jim Boylen said he was looking for balance.
‘‘I don’t want us to be [ranked] 30 in one thing and one in the other,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘The last five games, we were 26th in defense and first in offense. I would like us to be more balanced.’’
He wouldn’t find that balance against the Bucks. The Bulls (13-44) lost their franchise-record 11th consecutive home game, thanks to 29 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists from Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And while the defense had its moments, especially considering the Bucks entered the game second in the NBA in scoring at 117.2 points per game, there continued to be too many lapses at the wrong times.
That’s what Boylen stressed after the loss and will continue hammering home for the rest of the season.
‘‘We can score all the points we want, but if we don’t become a defensive team, it’s hard to win,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘We all know that’s true, and I believe that.’’
The Bulls handcuffed the Bucks in the first half, holding them to 50 points and 6-for-21 shooting (28.6 percent) from three-point range. But that changed in the third quarter, when Antetokounmpo scored 10 points and the Bucks outscored the Bulls 29-22.
It didn’t help that point guard Kris Dunn was battling a back injury and that the frontcourt has been a bit short-handed because of injures. It all contributed to the Bulls committing some familiar defensive breakdowns, and Boylen wants that fixed.
‘‘I think it’s a combination of a couple of things,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘When we turn the ball over, we are poor at reacting to turnovers. So if we turn it over, a lot of times it ends up a bucket — a rim two, a paint bucket or an open three. We have to grow and improve responding to turnovers.
‘‘Our verbal communication has to happen before halfcourt, not after halfcourt, and that’s something we’ve talked about the last two days. I want us to have a consistent level of grit and toughness and competitiveness from game to game, and I feel there are moments where we’ve been terrific. Our fight has been there. Then there’s moments where I feel like we haven’t fought, we haven’t had the edge.
‘‘Is that newness? Is that youngness? Is that just where we’re at as a group as far as maturity and toughness? It might be all those things, but we don’t have to accept that.’’
The Bulls had cut the Bucks’ lead to three with 2:55 left, then allowed a 12-0 run that put the game out of reach.
‘‘The 33-point quarter is not what we want in the fourth quarter,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘I just thought we had plays at the rim or open threes that didn’t go, and they had the same play on the other end and it goes for them.’’
Having a player such as Antetokounmpo doesn’t hurt. Trying to defend him pushed Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen to the limit.
‘‘He’s a tough cover, for sure,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘He can do a little bit of everything. I take it personally, but it’s a team problem. He kind of got going in the second [half].
‘‘It was a difficult task. I thought I could have done a little better job. . . . Next time, I’ll do better.’’