The Milwaukee Bucks earned a 94-90 home win over the Chicago Bulls at Fiserv Forum on Friday.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo led his team with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Bulls wing DeMar DeRozan's 35 points led all scorers.
Neither team shot the ball well, with the Bucks (38.2 percent from the field) and Bulls (36.5 percent) combining to make just 13-of-69 three-pointers.
This game was ultimately a defensive fight to the finish.
The Bulls had the ball in the final minute with a chance to tie or take the lead down 92-90, but a DeRozan three-point attempt with 23.3 seconds left was off the mark.
Bucks wing Khris Middleton grabbed the rebound and knocked down two free throws for a four-point lead after a Coby White foul.
Chicago missed three shots on its final possession to end the game.
The 29-19 Bucks have won two straight.
Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 30 points, 12 rebounds
Bucks F Khris Middleton: 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists
Bucks C Bobby Portis: 12 points, 13 rebounds
Bulls F DeMar DeRozan: 35 points, 6 rebounds
Bulls C Nikola Vucevic: 19 points, 11 rebounds
Giannis Guides Bucks Through Ugly Win
Despite playing a shorthanded Bulls team at home, the Bucks were down four points early in the fourth quarter after a Matt Thomas three-pointer.
Points were hard to come by for anyone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo—a fact made clearer when shooting guard Grayson Allen was ejected in the third quarter after committing a Flagrant-2 foul on Alex Caruso.
Simply put, the Bucks needed their two-time MVP (and reigning Finals MVP) to bail them out of a rock fight, and he did just that in the fourth quarter.
Antetokounmpo scored 10 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including what ended up being the game-winning bucket as he executed a reverse layup behind the basket that conjured up images of Julius Erving in the 1980 NBA Finals:
Other big buckets included a dunk to immediately answer the Thomas three-pointer. He also later hit a floater for a 76-74 lead and knocked down a pullup jumper for a 79-76 edge.
He also came up clutch on defense, swatting a Caruso bucket in transition for one of his two blocks:
Along the way, Antetokounmpo joined some great company in franchise history:
This wasn't a pretty victory for the defending champions, but a win is a win, and the Bucks will take any of them that they can get as they find themselves in the middle of a packed race for first in the East.
DeRozan Nearly Wills Bulls to Victory
Chicago faced a near-impossible task Friday.
First, they were without Ball and LaVine, who have combined for 37.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game this year.
Those two are a big reason why the Bulls, who went 31-41 and failed to even qualify for the play-in tournament last year, are right there in the race for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.
Second, they were facing the defending NBA champions, who had the services of their big three of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Credit to the Bulls for even making this a game, with the result in doubt until the final half-minute. They played excellent defense that puzzled the Bucks all night, and the Bulls would have won this one with some better shooting down the stretch.
This game ultimately came down to DeRozan, the Bulls' remaining perimeter star sans LaVine and Ball. He nearly led Chicago to the win as he knocked down mid-range jumpers and routinely got to the free-throw line all evening.
DeRozan finished the night hitting 9-of-18 field goals and 17-of-18 free throws. This effort to close the third quarter gave him 27 points on the night:
Chicago Bulls @chicagobulls
Monster of the Midrange 🥶 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a><a href="https://twitter.com/NBCSChicago?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBCSChicago</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/DeMar_DeRozan?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DeMar_DeRozan</a> <a href="https://t.co/6PM5FQrx4o">pic.twitter.com/6PM5FQrx4o</a>
He also got a little unlucky down the stretch, as he had his toe on the three-point line while knocking down a long-range jumper late in the fourth to cut the Bucks' lead to 87-83:
But he kept grinding away at the Bucks, hitting a pair of free throws twice and finding Nikola Vucevic for a three-pointer in the middle of those shots.
On a night where DeRozan and Vucevic were the only Bulls to score more than 11 points, the Bulls were one made three-pointer away from being up one with 23 seconds left.
Alas, DeRozan's shot was off the mark, leading to a moral victory for the Bulls instead of a real one in the standings. Still, their valiant effort shows that they can perhaps weather the storm until LaVine and Ball make their returns.
Milwaukee will host the Sacramento Kings on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The Bulls will visit the Orlando Magic on Sunday at 6 p.m. in Amway Center.