The Milwaukee Bucks are down 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls in their best-of-seven first round series and are facing a few hard truths right now. The first is that they’re going to lose this series. The second is that there’s a good chance Khris Middleton might be leaving in free agency after the season. But it’s not all bad for the Bucks, who played the Bulls tough in game two until they pulled away at the end.
The Bucks somewhat exposed the Bulls in the early-going, holding them to just 11 points in an ugly first quarter. A better team might have buried the Bulls early and put the game out of reach, but unfortunately Milwaukee just doesn’t have that offensive ability. They saw their 16-11 lead after the first turn into a 39-38 deficit at the half and a 91-82 final score.
But what we should focus on is what the Bucks were doing right, not what the end result was. After all, I think we’ve established well enough that the Bucks aren’t winning this series. Milwaukee has double-teamed Pau Gasol just about any time the Bulls even think about moving the ball his way. They often have his man front him in the post while bringing the double team from behind to take away the lob.
This is often the problem with playing Gasol with Joakim Noah–teams aren’t afraid to leave Noah in the post. Gasol has been surprisingly frustrated in both games, shooting a combined 9-29 from the field. Considering that this is the same team that Gasol dropped 46 points and 18 rebounds on earlier in the season, the adjustment that the Bucks have made is bordering on shocking.
With Gasol negated and all 6’6” of Michael Carter-Williams hounding Derrick Rose at the perimeter in game two, the Bulls struggled early on to move the ball efficiently. Turnovers were a problem, as getting the ball from the high post near the basket created opportunities for deflections. Rose had three turnovers in the first half, but he wasn’t the only problem. Noah gave away a few, as did Gasol.
The Bulls shot extremely poor as well, as most of their shot attempts were contested. The set up of the defense by the Bucks forced the Bulls to take a lot of three-pointers, which is something that normally doesn’t bother them. Between Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell, the Bulls take a ton of threes. Last night was no different.
The Bulls were forced into three-pointer after three-pointer, opening the game 5-21 from distance. The blueprint for beating the Bulls was on display, and it was simple: don’t let Gasol get the ball in the post, and force their shooters into taking long, contested shots. It worked really well for the Bucks, and if a team with better offensive tools like the Cavs or the Hawks were executing it, this likely goes as a loss for the Bulls.
But in the second half, with the game still very close and right there for anyone to take, Rose and Butler came to play. Rose shot poorly overall at just 4-14 for the game; however, he was 4-7 in the second half, and he posted 15 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds with only the three early turnovers to his record. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a great game by Rose, but it’s still pretty refreshing to see him struggle with his shot early on and not completely go into the tank.
As for Butler, he seemed to almost be angry in the fourth quarter. He dropped 14 of his game-high 31 points in the final period and looked like the go-to guy that was ready to put the team on his back and bury the annoying opponent that had clung within a few points for far too long. Butler added nine rebounds and 14 free throw attempts in 46 minutes of play. If there is one ingredient to the Bulls attack that the Bucks haven’t had an answer for, it’s Butler.
But Butler won’t be able to do it alone against a higher quality of competition. For this reason, it’s likely that the Bulls won’t make it past LeBron James and the Cavs in the second round. I’d be willing to bet that the Bucks will steal a game in Milwaukee, as anyone that has watched this Bulls team all season knows they’re prone to dogging it for an entire game, regardless of what’s at stake.
In the end, the Bulls will win the series and move on, and the Bucks will go home and prepare for next year. But the Bucks should feel good about what they did on the court last night; if nothing else, they’ve shined a light on the many weaknesses of the Bulls and showed how they can be beaten. Even if they can’t do it themselves.