Bulls put up a fight in Game 1, but fall late to defending NBA champs

MILWAUKEE – Zach LaVine had no idea how the first round playoff series with the defending NBA Champions will end up playing out.

He made that very clear after the 93-86 Game 1 loss to Milwaukee on Sunday night.

What the Bulls guard did feel very good about?

“We let them know that we were here,” LaVine said confidently.

Not a feeling they gave the Bucks throughout most of this regular season in getting swept, and not a message they sent to most of the NBA’s elite teams.

But LaVine was holding onto the idea that they withstood a flurry out of the gate in his first ever playoff game, could have let go of the rope like they have so often the last month, but instead were actually in position to win.

Down just three with 59 seconds left, it looked like Nikola Vucevic would cut it to one as his floater just missed. He seemingly grabbed his own rebound and put it back in. One problem. It didn’t go in. It rimmed out in heartbreaking fashion.

“Yeah, it was one of those that before I even shot, I kind of already saw it go in, and it just rimmed out,” Vucevic said of the key moment. “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, you cut it down to one … it happens. It’s part of the playoffs.”

No problem. Like they did most of the second half, the Bulls defense stiffened up and gave them another shot with just under 30 seconds left. LaVine, who is always confident with his shot-making ability, attacked early in the clock, pulling up from 31 feet on a game-tying three off the screen that hit the back of the rim.

Coach Billy Donovan said he wanted to review the film to see if LaVine should have attacked the rim and gotten the two, but from his angle did like LaVine’s attempt.

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. Brook [Lopez] was six feet back. Probably one of the cleanest looks I had on the night. Just hit the back of the rim.”

A common theme for the Bulls’ “Big Three.” A lot of good shot attempts, and could have beens.

That’s how DeMar DeRozan finished 6-for-25, LaVine went 6-for-19, and Vucevic was 9-for-27. A combined 21-for-71 (29.5%) on a night where the Bucks were equally poor in the shooting department (10-for-38 from three).

“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. All of us. We just got to get that feel. I guarantee me, Zach and Vooch ain’t going to miss that many shots again. We 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 this team’s first playoff appearance since 2017, what was the glass half-full that LaVine was counting on?

They withstood a 9-0 deficit to start the game, a terrible first quarter, and then arguably stood toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring with the champs after that.

“You can’t learn from it, then obviously it’s going to bite us in the ass, but I thought we did a good job fighting,” LaVine said. “I think it’s going to be a good matchup.”

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