The Milwaukee Bucks took care of business on Wednesday.
The defending NBA champions made sure not to prolong their first-round series and finished off the short-handed Chicago Bulls with a 116-100 victory in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum.
The best-of-seven matchup began inauspiciously for Milwaukee with a lackluster performance in Game 1 and then a 114-110 defeat in Game 2. Despite a knee injury to star Khris Middleton that will keep him out at least two weeks, the Bucks looked much crisper in winning three straight, including two in Chicago, to eliminate the Bulls.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 116, Bulls 100
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“We’ve been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster, a lot this season,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. And our defense has tightened up and we’ve leaned hard on that these three games.
“But we’ve got depth, we’ve got a good group. We miss Khris, I don’t think anyone underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don’t have him, we got to be our best up and down the roster.”
Third-seeded Milwaukee will face the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics, who swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, have home-court advantage and will host the first two games of the series.
Chicago wasn’t expected to give Milwaukee much of a challenge given the 3-1 series deficit and the absences of key guards Zach LaVine (health and safety protocol) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocol).
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points, with 32 coming in the first three quarters as the Bucks pulled away early and never allowed the Bulls to really threaten.
“Sometimes I got to score the ball,” Antetokounmpo said. “But in my head I don’t think about, like, ‘hey I got to score the ball. Khris is down, I got to score 40.’
“It’s kind of the opposite. It’s like, Khris is down now, we got to get 30-40 points from somebody else. So you got to move the ball.”
Pat Connaughton was the main beneficiary of the Bucks’ ball movement, scoring 20 points off the bench. After shooting 5 for 22 on three-pointers over the first four games of the series, he was 6 of 9 on Wednesday.
“It’s just about having the same mindset,” Connaughton said. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. But for me, and what I think I’ve built upon this year, is trying to make sure that I’m keeping myself honest with the way I’m shooting them.
“Even when you make some, they may not feel good. Well, why didn’t they feel good? I think taking some time, having two days between games, being able to get in the gym and kind of reassess myself. How my shot feels, how my hand feels on the ball, where my base is at.”
Bobby Portis added 14 points and 17 rebounds for his fourth double-double in the series. The seventh-year pro had not recorded a double-double in his previous 26 playoff games.
“Bobby, that’s who he is,” Wesley Matthews Jr. said. “He’s energy. He’s toughness. He’s experience. He’s awesome. He really is. And he plays hard every possession. He’s cerebral. You can talk to him and he responds. He wants to win. He’s going to do everything in his power to help our lives be easier.”
Grayson Allen added 13 points, continuing his hot shooting off the bench. The Fiserv Forum crowd also got into the act of booing Allen, following the lead of his teammates from Games 3 and 4 in Chicago.
“It’s fun,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s what basketball is about. The fans are getting into it. I love it. When people boo him, he’s playing great so keep booing him.”
There wasn’t much urgent energy in Fiserv Forum with the crowd late in filing into the seats. The Bucks shook off a slow start, but took control with a 12-0 run for a 20-7 lead.
Antetokounmpo scored 15 points in the first quarter. There was some concern among the home fans when he stayed on the court holding his left wrist after a hard fall.
Antetokounmpo stayed in the game, however, hitting the two free throws after his fall and then adding a three-point play in the waning seconds of the first quarter. He got the wrist taped on the bench before scoring the Bucks’ first two baskets of the second quarter.
“Great,” Antetokounmpo said with his smile after the game when asked about how his wrist after the game.
Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic had a layup 22 seconds into the second quarter, but then the Bulls didn’t score for more than four minutes. The Bucks scored 15 unanswered points and took a 49-20 advantage on a three-pointer by Matthews.
Chicago looked like it was going to fold but summoned enough energy to get within 57-42 before Allen knocked in a three-pointer before halftime.
The Bulls had renewed fight coming out of the locker room, with Vucevic and Ayo Dosunmu hitting three-pointers to whittle the deficit to 66-55.
Portis responded for the Bucks by nailing back-to-back triples from the right corner. Matthews added a three a few minutes later and Milwaukee’s lead ballooned to 79-57.
Connaughton added consecutive threes to make it 85-61, and Chicago coach Billy Donovan called timeout at the 3:47 mark of the third quarter with his team’s season on the rocks.
The Bulls could not get any closer than 15 points with reserves seeing a lot of playing time in the fourth quarter.
Chicago just didn’t have enough firepower, hoisting up a franchise-record 52 three-point attempts but making just 15 of them. Bulls star DeMar DeRozan attempted just 10 shots and finished with 11 points.
“That was the game plan: Make him see a lot of bodies,” Matthews said. “Force everybody else us to beat us. That’s a hell of a team. That’s a well-coached team. Great organization, obviously, the history of the Chicago Bulls.
“You don’t take any playoff games for granted. You don’t take any moments for granted. It’s a great team, great organization, great players. It’s a blessing to be able to get a win in the playoffs and move on. The team defense was great this whole series and that’s what we’re going to need going into Boston.”