Chicago Bulls fans were ready to rock Friday night before Game 3 at the United Center.
But they also were ready to boo and got it out of their system in the second half of the Bulls’ embarrassing 111-81 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
A night that began with so much anticipation turned ugly early by the first quarter as the Bulls surrendered meekly to give the Bucks a 2-1 edge in the series.
Bucks guard Grayson Allen was dancing on one foot during a third-quarter timeout as someone in sunglasses and an Ayo Dosunmu jerysey appeared on the video board lip-syncing “Ice Ice Baby.” The man Chicagoans love to hate came off the bench to pour in a team-high 22 points, hitting five 3-pointers to “ice ice” the Bulls.
Greeted with a loud chorus of boos every time he touched the ball after entering the game midway through the first quarter, Allen made Bulls fans sing the blues by the end of the night.
“I just blew it off at this point,” Allen said afterward in an interview outside the Bucks locker room.
You’re immune by now?
“I don’t if I’m immune, but definitely used to it,” he said with a grin.
It didn’t seem to matter that stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo was a far more important matter for the Bulls than Allen. The “Greek Freak” is likable, after all, and Allen was the one who made the flagrant foul on Alex Caruso that fractured Caruso’s right wrist and jeopardized the Bulls’ season.
Allen silenced the crowd with three 3 pointers in less than four minutes as the Bucks opened a 16-point first-quarter lead at 33-17. LaVine didn’t sore until 2:05 remained in the quarter, and Allen ripped the ball out of Tristan Thompson’s hands on the baseline with three seconds left to deny them a scoring opportunity.
Donovan said before the series the Caruso-Allen incident was in the past and no one gave it a second thought.
“After it happened, I don’t really ever think it was ever an issue that was brought back up with our team,” he said. “These guys are pros. It’s over and done with. It’s been addressed. … Maybe there was a little bit more storyline around the fact once we got ready to play them again after Alex had gotten hurt, maybe a little bit.”
Allen said he didn’t hear from Bulls fans before the Caruso incident.
“Pretty much just this year,” he said. “I still get it from a random group at an arena.”
And the former Duke star added it was “fun” playing in the hostile environment, insisting the treatment by Bulls fans didn’t motivate him.
“I don’t think so, because it’s almost weird when it doesn’t happen,” he said. “I’ve played so many games in my career where the boos have been there, where it’s kind of a return to normal almost.”
The Bulls took a page from the White Sox’s playbook Friday, albeit with far less success.
Just as the Sox asked fans to wear black for their playoff opener on the South Side in October, the Bulls announced a “See Red” campaign to turn the United Center into a sea of red for Game 3.
The lighting and graphics on the video boards at the West Side stadium also featured a red theme, making for an eerie look during introductions that resembled a nightclub at closing time.
This obviously was going to be a pivotal game in the series after the Bulls stole Game 2 on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, swiping home-court advantage from the Bucks in the best-of-seven series.
The Bulls were aided in their Game 2 win by a large contingent of fans who traveled up Interstate 94 for the game. When the Bulls went on a run at the start of the fourth quarter to open up a big lead, it almost sounded as if they were playing in the United Center.
The Bulls also were one of the better home teams in the NBA for most of the season, though they entered the playoffs having lost four straight at the United Center, finishing with a 27-14 home record after losing to the Miami Heat, Bucks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets over the final week.
They lost both home games to the Bucks in the regular season, including a 21-point drubbing on April 5.
But the playoffs are a different animal. The Bulls were 0-3 at the United Center in their last playoff appearance in 2017 and have lost six straight since their last win on May 8, 2015, a Game 3 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
So does home-court advantage mean as much as it did during the regular season?
Apparently not, at least when it comes to the United Center.
The crowd was rocking at the outset Friday after an opening 3-pointer by Nikola Vučević. But the fans were seemingly more ready than the Bulls, who started out 3-for-14 from the field and fell into a double-digit hole 7½ minutes into the game.
It was almost a carbon-copy replay of the Game 1 start, when poor shooting put the Bulls behind the eight ball and forced them to claw their way back. This time the hole was too deep, and fans began heading for the exits by the end of the third quarter.
The Bulls trailed by 24 points late in the first half and went into the locker room down 60-41, shooting 39.5% from the field and being outscored 22-10 in the paint.
Allen had 14 points in 15 minutes, with four 3-pointers and a steal. He also blocked a Patrick Williams layup attempt with two minutes left in the second quarter, putting an exclamation mark on his first-half performance.
When Williams turned the ball early in the third quarter and Antetokounmpo slammed home a resounding dunk on the other end, making it a 26-point game, Bulls fans began to boo. They kept it up the rest of the night as the Bucks kept piling on.
“I think we knew we could shoot better and score better than the first two games,” Allen said. “But other parts of the games, that’s just how it is. Sometimes you just have to win ugly games. We can’t just expect to make shots.”
Allen played the part of the villain to perfection, and his near-perfect game was one that will be remembered in Milwaukee for a while.
Bulls fans have long memories, and Allen is likely to remain remains Public Enemy No. 1 at the United Center until further notice, just as agitators John Starks and Bill Laimbeer were in playoffs past.
Allen said the Bucks know they didn’t silence Bulls fans for good.
“They’ll be back Sunday, probably just as loud as it was today,” he said. “Chicago will be back. They’ll make adjustments. They’re be ready. We can’t get into that trap of being happy, thinking things will be easy because we won a game.”
Every playoff series needs heroes and villains, and this one was not going to be any different.
The playoffs were back on the West Side, and everyone had a part to play in the minidrama between the Bulls and Bucks.
Unfortunately for Bulls fans, the villain had his moment in the sun.