NBA playoffs: Bucks finish squeezing life out of shorthanded Bulls

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For as fun and ascendent a season as this was for the Chicago Bulls, it ended with them faceplanting into the brick wall known as the Milwaukee Bucks.

The defending champion Bucks defeated the Bulls 116-100 to finish off their first-round series in five games. The Bucks, seeded No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, will advance to face the Boston Celtics in the second round.

The win improved the Bucks' record to 8-0 in playoff-clinching games under head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The Bulls entered Game 5 already on their back foot. In addition to still missing starting guard Lonzo Ball, out since Jan. 14 with a torn meniscus, they were without both Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso, who had each started all four games in the series. LaVine entered the NBA's health and safety protocols on Tuesday, while Caruso was still in the concussion protocol.

All of that added up to insurmountable challenge against the Bucks, who were themselves missing All-Star forward Khris Middleton, out indefinitely with an MCL sprain.

Bucks locked Bulls down on defense

The Bucks opened Game 5 by jumping out to a 49-20 lead in the first half. The Bulls would cut the margin to as little as 11 in the third quarter, but never came close to striking distance.

Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly led the onslaught, scoring 33 points on 11-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds and three assists. He and Bobby Portis (17 rebounds) dominated on the boards, while Jrue Holiday chipped in nine assists.

Overall, it was a miserable series for Chicago. The team failed to crack 100 points in scoring three times in the first four games and entered Wednesday shooting 39.8% from the field and 28% from deep. Game 5 was more of the same.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the first half of Game 5 of their NBA playoff basketball game Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The Bucks are onto the second round. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

None of that is how Bulls fans hoped to see the season, especially given the ongoing bad blood with Bucks guard Grayson Allen. It had once been a revitalizing season for the Bulls after five straight seasons without the playoffs, opening with a 26-10 record. With the additions of DeMar DeRozan, Ball and Caruso, they looked like a new team.

DeRozan was primarily responsible for the Bulls' sole win in the series (41 points, seven rebounds and four assists), but the Bucks also held him to only 11 points in both Game 3 and Game 5.

Even amid the fun though, quite a bit was made about the Bulls' concerning record against quality competition. Against the 11 other teams that made the playoffs without the play-in tournament, they were 8-22. Against teams in the top four of each conference, they were 2-21.

Chicago was never exactly 100% between Ball's injury and top-five pick Patrick Williams' early season injury, but it's hard to say those concerns don't look valid now.