A Look at the Playoff History Between the Chicago Bulls and Bucks

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (Jonathan Daniel /Allsport)
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (Jonathan Daniel /Allsport) /

Grayson Allen pulling a WWE move on Alex Caruso during the Chicago Bulls’ first game against the Milwaukee Bucks this season wasn’t a shocker for two reasons. The first was obviously because it involved Allen, a player with a steep history of suspect plays.

The second is because of the team’s history, dating back to the ’70s.

As the team’s prepare to tip off, let’s look back at their rivalry through the years.

Bulls vs Bucks History: Kareem, Dick Motta, Larry Costello and 1970s

The Bulls-Bucks rivalry was a high point of the NBA up until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird reignited the Boston-Los Angeles beef. The game was much more physical back then, leading to altercations and emotional outbursts.

“During the season, those games were like wars,” then-general manager Wayne Embry told Sam Smith of NBA.com. “Even the coaches went at it. Bulls coach Dick Motta used to taunt Bucks coach Larry Costello that if he had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar he’d go 82-0 every season.”

The matchup, and taunting, clearly stuck with Costello. Embry said that Costello was so bothered by Chicago that he would drive down to their games when the Bucks weren’t playing … odd behavior.

That ability to hop on the freeway and go scout each other was the other factor in this rivalry. The cities didn’t like each other, and the franchises resented one another. The Bulls felt that they would’ve had the same success Milwaukee’d garnered if they had been lucky enough to draft Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor).

Chicago, at the time, didn’t have the best drafting history, however. They passed on Walt Frazier for Clem Haskins, passed on JoJo White because of his military affiliation, and passed on Nate Archibald without a clear explanation.

While the Bucks had a strong roster with a generational player, the Bulls had a team of journeymen who, through physical defense and high intensity offensive, were able to win 51 or more games in four consecutive seasons in the early ’70s.

Once the playoffs rolled around, though, Chicago would get dominated down-low by Alcindor (who announced he’d become Kareem after winning the 1971 NBA Championship). They failed win a playoff series until the 1973-74 season. They were able to beat the Detroit Pistons but had to play the Bucks without their star Jerry Sloan, who was out with a torn plantar fascia.

The series was highly anticipated, with league officials on high notice because of the fist fight that ensued between the teams in the regular season. Because of that, the Bulls were tightly officiated.

In Game 3, Motta went off on the officials after a foul call on one of his players against Kareem, whom the Bulls claimed was tripping their players in retaliation. Motta, Sloan and Benny the Bull  were ejected form the game. The Bucks finished the four-game sweep two nights later.

The Bulls went into a dark ages after losing Sloan. Kareem forced a trade to the Lakers and continued to be an All-Time great.

Chicago Bulls hit gold in the 1980s

The Bulls finally did something right in 1984, drafting the GOAT Michael Jordan. In his rookie season, the team made the playoffs and had their first round fate in their hand, a win securing a matchup with the defending-champion Philadelphia 76ers and a loss pitting them against the Bucks.

The Bucks were the more favorable matchup, and while it wasn’t popular back then, the Bulls pulled a modern number and tanked to play the Bucks– though their head coach Kevin Loughery vehemently denied doing so. It was so obvious that they were tanking, the Chicago Stadium fans began chanting, “Tulane Bulls, Tulane Bulls,” in the team’s final game.

The Bulls got their wish, playing a tough Bucks team whom they had a full fist fight with in the regular season. The Bucks beat the Bulls 3-1, and there were plenty of near fights throughout the series.

The 90’s Bulls put the rivalry to rest … sort of

The Bulls became a dynasty after drafting Jordan, but still had their fair share of uphill battles. The earliest was their 1990 first-round series against the Bucks– a series that is known as one of the most physical and dirtiest to date.

The poster game of that series was Game 4. Chicago blew out the Bucks thanks to their big man, Will Purdue, acting as the team’s enforcer down low. He succeeded in the role, neutralizing Bucks post player Greg Anderson, who had thrown Jordan to the ground and elbowed John Paxson in the previous games.

Purdue hadn’t played in the first three games, but understood the Game 4 assignment. He came in and immediately layed out one of the Bucks players. Both benches cleared.

“The game was out of hand, so I just thought it was something to do,” Anderson said.

The team wasn’t mad at Purdue, feeling like he had to do what he had to do. Jordan applauded the big man’s toughness.

“Will ignited everything with his key baskets and his feistiness,” Jordan commented afterward.

Chicago was able to play through the physicality, beating the Bucks 3-1 and sending them to their own dark age of navigating the lottery wilderness.

Bulls vs Bucks modern era hasn’t been as physical, but the rivalry is still there

The Bulls and Bucks lost the contender flair once their generational talents left. Neither were able to make any strides until the 2010s. Their paths finally crossed in 2015.

The Bucks were beginning to build their now-championship core with a baby Giannis Antetokounmpo. Meanwhile, the Bulls were trying to make the Derrick Rose group work despite the team’s constant injuries … eerie.

The Bulls took a 3-0 lead over the baby Greek Freak with Rose, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol dominating. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Antetokounmpo had a minor run in with one another in Game 4, refusing to unlock arms. They had to be separated, with Dunleavy shouting at the Baby Bucks that included Michael Carter-Williams. Bulls guard Aaron Brooks then got a flagrant for forearm checking Bucks guard Jerryd Bayless.

The Bulls dropped Game 4, following a miracle game-winning layup by Bayless.

The Bucks won Game 5, forcing a Game 6 – something that wasn’t expected by a group of newbies. Chicago responded with a 54-point rout in Game 6. Dunleavy matched his talk with his play, leading the team in scoring. He also continued his antagonizing of Antetokounmpo, throwing the Greek Freak to the ground before attempting a three.

Antetokounmpo hopped up and rushed Dunleavy, sending him flying into the stands. He was given a flagrant-two and ejected in a series that had 15 technical fouls called.

There aren’t going to be any real fist fights or even a punch thrown in this era’s revival of the Bucks-Bulls rivalry. The Bucks are the defending champions and handled the Bulls easily in the regular season. As long as Antetokounmpo doesn’t get ejected in a game, the Bucks will be the heavy favorites.

The Bulls, of course, have a puncher’s chance.

Related Story. Breaking down Bulls’ potential first-round playoff matchup vs Bucks. light