Bucks vs. Bulls: Grayson Allen’s hot shooting night leads Milwaukee to 2-1 series lead over Chicago

CHICAGO — With the recent news that Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton will likely miss the remainder of the series against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained MCL, the main storyline heading into Game 3 on Friday night was who would step up for the Bucks in Middleton’s absence. We’ve certainly seen Giannis Antetokounmpo win games on his own by putting up absurd numbers, but asking him to do it all can’t be Plan A. 

Luckily, Milwaukee never really needed Giannis to go completely nuclear on offense. In the first five minutes of the game for the Bucks, center Bobby Portis drained two 3-pointers, Brook Lopez netted a triple of his own and Jrue Holiday had two smooth finishes at the rim. It was the bulk of what resulted in a 17-9 lead for the Bucks, forcing the Bulls to take their first timeout of the game. That early onslaught from the role players ended up being a taste of what was to come for the rest of the night as Milwaukee rolled Chicago to a 111-81 win.

Giannis finished the game with a modest stat line of 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while only taking 12 shots and playing 29 minutes. The reason for that “quiet” night from the two-time league MVP was because of the production the Bucks were getting from everyone else. Grayson Allen finished with a playoff career high of 22 points, Portis tacked on 18 points, Holiday had 16 and Pat Connaughton finished with 11 points. It was the exact type of effort Milwaukee needed as it faced a raucous United Center crowd without its second-best player available.

“The whole group played well tonight,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “The guys off the bench were great, the starters were great. It takes all of us.” 

Although Milwaukee got significant help from several players, the night belonged to Allen, who went from putting up a combined three points in the first two games of this series to draining five 3-pointers en route to his career night.

“Mentally my mindset [in my role] was the same, maybe I was a little bit quicker to shoot some of those catch-and-shoot shots I got, but I think it was just being in different spots,” Allen said after the game. “Some of those spots that Khris is usually in on offense — top of the key, playing off of post-ups, isolations — I was there and got the ball swung [to me] and they collapsed hard on Giannis and Jrue all game long so I was able to take advantage of that.”

Allen’s performance was reminiscent of a stretch of the schedule early in the season when Middleton was sidelined for eight games with COVID-19. During that span, Allen started in each game and averaged 18.3 points while shooting 50.7 percent from deep on over eight attempts a game. While he came off the bench in this game, his role was still the same. Knock down shots when the defense collapsed on Giannis and Holliday, get to the rim if the option was available and be aggressive on defense. 

He certainly delivered in all three of those areas, and although the Bucks might not be able to bank on Allen putting up over 20 points every night, he’s an important piece to the puzzle for Milwaukee as it tries to navigate this series without Middleton.

“He’s a confident shooter,” Budenholzer said. “I think the thing with Grayson, he’s great off the bounce too. I think people underestimate how he can attack closeouts and drive it. We need that balance. We need some guys that can be on the backside and beat guys off the dribble.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the series, Milwaukee will need players such as Allen, Portis and Connaughton to remain aggressive and confident in their shot as the Bulls will continue to give a bulk of their defensive attention to Antetokounmpo and Holliday. All three of those guys showed up in Game 3, now we’ll have to see if it can carry over to the rest of the series as the Bulls try to adjust for Game 4 on Sunday. 

Eleanore Beatty

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