MILWAUKEE — More often than not, numbers can tell the story.
Two major numbers worked against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
Chicago turned 19 Milwaukee turnovers into 24 points and the Bulls scored 66 points in the paint on their way to a 104-88 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“We made mistakes and they capitalized,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “We got behind to a great team. Coming off the back-to-back it was going to be kind of tough for us to make that run to get the lead, especially the way they were playing.”
Not only was Milwaukee playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Bucks were unable to fly back from Detroit until this morning due to engine failure on the team’s charter plane.
The Bucks looked the part of a tired team in the first half and the Bulls were the polar opposite. Motivated and energized to get back at the Bucks for beating them on their home court, the Bulls were playing hard and feeding off a large contingent of Chicago fans that made the trip up I-94.
Behind 16 second quarter points from streaky point guard Nate Robinson, Chicago rolled into half up 55-37.
“We didn’t like the way they celebrated on our court,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We just wanted to be real tough and physical tonight, go in the paint early, and (coach) made the right calls and we took advantage of it.”
The Bucks were without their defensive ace, as center Larry Sanders was unable to play due to an illness. Without him, the Bulls owned the paint and Milwaukee struggled to defend the pick-and-roll.
“Larry makes a big difference for us when he’s around the basket and his activity and the way he alters shots,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Maybe they don’t get a couple of those tip-ins that they got against us.
“If we would have had Larry tonight, obviously that would have helped us. But he wasn’t there, so there was nothing we could do.”
Even if Sanders could have played, the physical front-lines like Chicago’s has given the Bucks fits all year. Milwaukee has plenty of long, athletic big men, but lack a true bruiser to battle with strong, physical teams.
“We need to have some guys out there who can pound a little bit,” Boylan said. “We’re kind of a long, slim athletic team up front and there’s a time and a place where you need some guys with some size that can put the wood to somebody and hold their ground.”
Milwaukee has rallied in the second quarter twice against Chicago this season, including a 27-point comeback win at the United Center.
The Bucks found their legs for a stretch in the third quarter and cut the deficit down to seven points, but Chicago stayed poised and answered each push.
Eventually, Milwaukee had nothing left to push with and Chicago again led by 18.
“They did everything to keep that lead,” Ellis said. “They played basketball tonight and we made too many mistakes.”
In the end the mistakes cost the Bucks the chance to move 1.5 games back of the Bulls for first place in the Central and gain the tiebreaker by winning the season series 3-1.
Instead, Chicago is 3.5 games ahead of the Bucks and the two teams split the season series with the road team going 4-0.
“They gave us their best, we gave them our best when it was time,” Ellis said. “It was just two good teams going at it and tonight they came out on top.”
Jennings ejected: Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings and Robinson have gone at it all season long.
Jennings torched Robinson for 20 third quarter points the last time the two teams met in Chicago and said afterwards that Robinson’s trash talking fueled his fire.
Wednesday night, Robinson got back at Jennings. Robinson scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second quarter and did his best to get in Jennings’ head.
With 2:54 left in the game, Jennings was called for an offensive foul, as Robinson did his best to sell official Derrick Stafford that it was indeed a charge. Jennings disagreed and lost his cool, getting in Stafford’s face and tossing the basketball down the court.
Stafford ejected Jennings on one technical.
“At the end he got a little frustrated. It was a physical game and there was a lot of clutching and grabbing. Sometimes when a game is like that and the referees didn’t call a lot of fouls, they let a lot of stuff go. Sometimes there’s a little frustration that builds up.
He got a little frustrated at the end and showed a little emotion and got carried away.