MILWAUKEE — Jason Kidd’s message got through loud and clear to the Milwaukee Bucks.
After Kidd thought his team "no-showed" Monday in Atlanta, the Bucks put everything they had into Wednesday night’s potential playoff preview against the Chicago Bulls at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Not only did Milwaukee’s 95-91 victory snap a nine-game home losing streak to Chicago, but also the win allowed the Bucks to hold serve in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"The last game Coach made a comment about our effort and energy," Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "We wanted to respond to that in a positive way. He really motivated us. He puts in the position to win. I think we responded well."
If the two teams do end up meeting in the playoffs, the Bucks had provided no reason prior to Wednesday for anyone to predict anything but a Chicago sweep. The Bulls had not only dominated the series in Milwaukee, but they also entered having won six straight over the Bucks.
From hustle plays to the emotion they played with, the Bucks clearly wanted this one.
"They responded," Kidd said. "They played 48 minutes with energy and effort. Looking back at the season, this was what they did early on. They had to compete. It was going to be physical. I think they responded in a positive way."
The emotion in the game even got to the typically calm Kidd. He was one of three Bucks to pick up technical fouls Wednesday, as Milwaukee was clearly frustrated with the way the game was officiated.
Chicago attempted 19 more free throws than Milwaukee, while the Bucks were whistled for seven more fouls.
"You have to understand what’s at stake," Kidd said. "You also have to stand up for yourself. Sometimes getting a T is worth it. Emotion is part of the game. When we play with emotion that means we are in tune with what is happening. I’m not a guy that’s against T’s as long as it is worth getting a T and not wasting a T."
The sense of urgency the Bucks played with Wednesday didn’t go unnoticed on the other side.
"I just saw a team that played hungrier than us tonight," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "They definitely had the better edge than us."
It appeared the Bulls had survived Milwaukee’s energy burst in the first half, jumping ahead by eight late in the second quarter. Chicago may have pulled away before halftime had it not been for Carter-Williams.
Taking advantage of his size advantage, Carter-Williams kept taking the smaller Aaron Brooks to the post. The Bulls refused to bring a double team, leading to Carter-Williams scoring 15 consecutive Bucks points in the second quarter.
"I was just trying to use my size advantage," Carter-Williams said. "If they came over to help, I knew one of my teammates was going to have an open look. I just tried to pick my poison. If they weren’t going to help, I was going to finish over the top. If they did, I was going to find my teammates.
"We just stayed with it. A couple of times I turned it over or missed a shot, but we kept going back to it. My teammates had faith in me to make the right play. I just tried to do the best I can to do anything to win."
Neither team led by more than six points in the second half, as the intensity and physicality picked up to a playoff level.
Just 2 for 12 at the time, Khris Middleton hit a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 84. He scored seven points during an 11-4 Bucks run that gave Milwaukee a 92-88 advantage with 2:56 to play.
The Bulls pulled within one, at 92-91, but Giannis Antetokounmpo swatted E’Twaun Moore’s attempt at a go-ahead layup. Ersan Ilyasova tipped in a Zaza Pachulia missed shot on the other end, putting the Bucks up 94-91 with 1:07 on the clock.
"It was one of those things," Ilyasova said. "I always try to follow (the shot). If I am off the ball, there’s always a chance to get a second-shot opportunity. It was a good shot. I tried to follow the ball. I was lucky it bounced my way."
Chicago missed three good looks at game-tying 3-point attempts in the final minute, allowing Antetokounmpo to send the numerous Bulls fans in attendance to the exits with a made free throw with 5.8 seconds left. It was a typical Bucks-Bulls matchup in Milwaukee in the sense that at least half of the 15,215 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center were supporting the Bulls.
"I was shocked," Carter-Williams said. "I didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know there were that many Bulls fans here. It was almost like we were playing in an away game. But it is good for us. It was a good test for us. We came out with the win."
Chicago Cubs fans routinely took over Miller Park in the early years of the ballpark. As the Milwaukee Brewers got better, the franchise initiated marketing plans to take back their home stadium.
With the exception of the six-year lull after Michael Jordan left, a loyal Bulls fan base has had a very good product to support for most of the past 30 years.
The Bucks are currently in an all-out blitz to win back their fan base.
"Hopefully it is going to change for us," Ilyasova said. "We have to build on the small pieces. We are a better team than we were before. Hopefully our fans are going to come support us more. Chicago has a big history. It is in our hands to change that because it is really frustrating. It feels like you are playing in Chicago. Last year we got booed when we came out.
"We disappointed them (Wednesday). It was good for our fans."
Milwaukee’s win helped and hurt the potential of a Bucks-Bulls playoff series. The Bucks are now in the sixth seed by 2 1/2 games over Miami and Brooklyn, while ninth-place Boston is three games back.
Losing to the Bucks hurt Chicago’s grasp on the No. 3 seed, as the Raptors pulled even with the Bulls with a win in Minnesota on Wednesday.
A playoff series between Milwaukee and Chicago could be quite the battle, quite possibly on the court and in the stands.
"When I was in Jersey, the Knicks were pretty dominant," Kidd said. "There were always a lot of Knicks fans in Jersey. Until we can compete and get to their level, there will probably be more Chicago fans. Hopefully we can chip away at that."
New colors: The Bucks announced changes to their colors Wednesday, officially unveiling green, cream and blue as the franchise’s new color scheme.
A video teaser played on the scoreboard during halftime, showing an "M" logo that was later on hats worn by owner Wes Edens and vice president of strategy and operations Alex Lasry.
It is unclear as to when the color scheme changes will take effect, as more details will be announced on April 13.