Now it’s the defending champion Bucks who are suddenly hurting as the teams head to Chicago all tied up.
DeRozan scored a career playoff-high 41 points and the Bulls outlasted the Bucks 114-110 on Wednesday night in Game 2. Nikola Vucevic added 24 points and 13 rebounds, while Zach LaVine had 20 points as the sixth-seeded Bulls beat the third-seeded Bucks for just the second time in their last 19 meetings.
“No matter what you did in the regular season, this is a brand new start and new mindset," DeRozan said. "You could see it in all the guys. It doesn't matter if we'd lost 20 times to those guys. This is an opportunity for us to compete. We've got to take advantage of it.”
The big question now is what shape the Bucks will be in when this series resumes Friday.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game that Middleton has a sprained medial collateral ligament and will undergo an MRI on Thursday.
“He’s always been positive and he knows the type of team that we are and how resilient we are,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. “We just want him to get back as quickly as possible and be healthy so he can come out here and help us win games.”
Budenholzer said that Portis “should be fine with some time.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists, putting him one assist from his second career playoff triple-double. Antetokounmpo increased his career postseason point total to 1,715 to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,692) for the most in Bucks history.
Brook Lopez had 25 points for the Bucks. Middleton scored 18 and Holiday 15.
DeRozan scored eight points during a 13-0 run that began late in the third quarter and gave the Bulls a 96-80 lead with 9:47 remaining. The Bulls still led by 15 before Milwaukee rallied in the final 7 ½ minutes.
Lopez converted a three-point play to cut Chicago’s lead to 112-109 with 56 seconds left.
“We expected those guys to make a run,” Vucevic said. “They’re a championship team for a reason. They’ve been there before, so we expected them to make a run.”
But after Alex Caruso and Vucevic got offensive rebounds on the Bulls’ ensuing possession, DeRozan’s driving layup made it 114-109 with 18.2 seconds remaining.
Chicago bounced back from a 93-86 Game 1 loss and continued to show the grit that had been missing late in the regular season, particularly when the Bulls were facing top teams.
The Bulls lost 15 of their final 22 regular-season games. During the regular season, the Bulls went just 2-21 against the top four seeds in each conference.
“I do think that playing some of these higher-level teams at the end of the year has maybe kind of hardened us, helped us grow,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “It's helped us get better. It's helped us be able to have that kind of mentality that we've got to move on to the next play. I think at times this year when we played against good teams, when it started to go a little bit the other direction, we didn't have enough in us to get it back going in our direction.”
Chicago closed the second quarter on a 15-4 run to grab a 65-4 halftime advantage.
The Bulls extended the lead to 18 early in the third quarter, before the Bucks rallied with a small lineup featuring Antetokounmpo, Middleton and reserve guards Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Jevon Carter.
Milwaukee went on a 15-2 spurt to cut the Bulls’ lead to three late in the third period. But the Bulls responded with 13 straight points and stayed in front the reset of the way.
“We made a good run, but the last minute of the third quarter I thought we could have been better, and then coming out of the fourth quarter, another big swing,” Budenholzer said. “We dug ourselves some big holes.”
Bulls: After shooting a season-low 32.3% and going 7 of 37 from 3-point range in a 93-86 Game 1 loss, the Bulls shot 49.4% and went 12 of 25 from beyond the arc Wednesday. DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic shot a combined 21 of 71 overall and 4 of 22 from 3-point range in Game 1. They were a combined 33 of 62 overall and 7 of 14 on 3-point attempts in Game 2. ... Caruso had 10 assists to go along with nine points. ... Patrick Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Bucks: George Hill missed a third straight game with an abdominal strain. Budenholzer said before Game 2 that Hill isn’t expected back I the short term and that the team will monitor how the 35-year-old Hill guard progresses over the next “handful of days or more,” ... The Bucks had 15 turnovers to increase their series total to 36.