Bucks come off the ropes and throttle Bulls to take 2-1 series lead

It didn’t come as some subtle warning that Billy Donovan said to his team in passing.

No, the Bulls coach spent a good portion of the 24 hours leading into Game 3 reminding his players that Milwaukee was not only the defending champions, but was most dangerous when fighting off the ropes.

Even in last season’s title run, they won key playoff games with all-world forward Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined, started the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Brooklyn down 0-2, and then in the Finals against the Phoenix Suns also dropped the first two games.

So the idea that the Bucks would somehow blink Friday night against the No. 6 seeded Bulls with the series tied 1-1 and without All-Star Khris Middleton (MCL sprain) in the lineup?

That just wasn’t reality.

The Bulls found that out, and then some, getting completely embarrassed 111-81 at the United Center, suffering the worst home playoff loss in team history.

Lesson hopefully learned.

“They responded the way they should have,” Bulls veteran DeMar DeRozan said. “That’s a lesson on us. The best learning tool is to go through a situation. They came out and whipped our butt and now it’s up to us on how we want to respond.”

It will have to be a quick response, with Game 4 coming at noon on Sunday, and the Bucks retaking control of the best-of-seven series with a 2-1 lead.

“I don’t think there’s anything these guys haven’t seen,” Donovan said of Milwaukee. “They’ve been down in playoff series, they’ve been tied in playoff series, they’ve been up in playoff series. They’ve dealt with different challenges over the course of their run the last several years. Khris Middleton is a great player, but they obviously have a lot of other players around him that are really, really special.”

And one the Bulls were very familiar with.

That Bucks resiliency was on full display right from the tip, as former Bull Bobby Portis was given the starting nod in place of Middleton and instantly played a factor.

Within the first four minutes of the Game 3 showdown, Portis had eight points, including two three pointers, and was another rim protector causing the Bulls to get stagnant on the perimeter as they fell behind 15-6.

That stagnant offense was a theme most of the first half, as the Bulls ended the quarter down 33-17, and were down 22 after a Portis layup with 7:39 left in the second.

A deficit that the home team found hard to chip away at.

“Without question they were the aggressor,” Donovan said. “[Friday] was a night they shot the ball a lot better than we did and then I thought we lost our way when we struggled to make shots. That’s what I talk about with teams that have won championships. They know how to respond. They went to another level and we did not.”

Case in point was not only the scoreboard, but the box score.

The Bucks shot 36.6% from three-point range and had 46 points in the paint, while the Bulls shot 26.5% from three and had 30 points in the paint.

And as far as DeRozan and his 41-point Game 2? How about Milwaukee handcuffing him all night, holding him to 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting?

“I knew they were going to make adjustments,” DeRozan said. “Got a feel for it throughout the game, but by the time I got a feel they had already made a run. Now I’ve got to take advantage of how they’re going to guard me and Zach [LaVine] for sure.”

LaVine finished with 15 on 6-for-13 shooting.

“Us respond,” LaVine said, when asked what he wanted to see from his team in Game 4. “They came out and hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond the right way.”

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