It would’ve been easy for coach Billy Donovan to focus on the now, especially with the Bulls’ 119-113 signature overtime victory Wednesday against the Bucks at the United Center.
After all, the rally from 11 down with just over three minutes left in regulation spoke volumes.
“I think our compete level was really high,’’ Donovan said. “Our guys stayed together and kept battling, kept fighting, and I give them credit.’’
The Bulls (15-19) now have two wins each against the Bucks, Celtics and Heat as well as a victory over the streaking Nets.
“The record against the better teams shows that, and the record against teams under .500 shows it, so if we come with the same mentality, I think we’ll be all right,’’ guard Zach LaVine said. “We’ve got a lot of confident guys, and we have confidence in each other.’’
But there’s that other side of this team, and it was still eating at Donovan almost 48 hours after the embarrassing 133-118 loss to the Rockets. It wasn’t just the way his team played, but what was expressed afterward. A lot of “we were looking past’’ the young Rockets and “we lacked urgency.’’
Even LaVine said, “They came out playing harder than us.’’
But rather than pointing the finger solely at his players — especially the veterans — for underestimating the Rockets, Donovan first blamed himself.
“The thing that really bothered me in the game was I talked about [overlooking the Rockets] in the shootaround, and I feel like I didn’t do a good enough job doing it, to be quite honest,’’ Donovan said. “You can say, ‘Listen, DeMar DeRozan has been in the league for 10-plus years, so has Andre Drummond. Zach LaVine nine years. These guys should know.’ And I’m not sitting here saying they shouldn’t know, I’m not taking any onus off them, but as I look and evaluate myself — because I look at the day — I take responsibility.’’
The preparation for this game against Milwaukee was night and day. Donovan made sure of that.
That’s why most of the game was a back-and-forth battle that almost led to an actual fight.
With 6:55 left in the third quarter and the Bulls trailing by four, Patrick Williams was called for a foul after pushing Grayson Allen.
Allen fell into DeRozan with an apparent forearm, sending DeRozan to the floor. DeRozan quickly got up on his feet and had to be restrained from getting at the former Duke player.
Allen became public enemy No. 1 for Bulls fans last season when he all but tackled Alex Caruso in midair during a game on Jan. 21, leaving Caruso with a broken wrist and Allen with a suspension.
“I just felt the hit,’’ DeRozan said. “Felt like I went across the middle in a football game and tried to catch a slant route and got hit.’’
When asked if Allen apologized, DeRozan said, “No, I wasn’t expecting him to.’’
So why did DeRozan get so angry?
“His track record,’’ Allen said. “If it was Boban [Marjanovic], I wouldn’t have done nothing, but who knows? I don’t know if it was on purpose or what happened. I just felt that it was an excessive hit.’’
It sparked DeRozan and the Bulls. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 45 points and 22 rebounds, but DeRozan countered with 42 points, including 10 of the Bulls’ 13 points in the overtime.
“That’s the type of player [DeRozan] is,’’ LaVine said. “You don’t want to fire up someone like that.’’