If I’ve learned anything from watching the Bulls all season, it’s that you never know what to expect. On any day, in any game, in any arena, you never know what Chicago team is going to show up. That’s why when the Bulls annihilated the Bucks in a series-clinching 120-66 beat down in Game 6, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
These Bulls are the same team that had as many losses against below .500 teams (16) as against above .500 teams during the regular season. This Bulls team became one of two teams to win at Golden State this season when they beat them in OT in late January. Two days later, the Bulls lost to the Lakers. Chicago failed to show any consistency all season long despite having one of the deepest rosters in the league. Injuries played a part in that, but even in this series with a mostly healthy team, the Bulls still fluctuated game to game.
Chicago jumped out to a 3-0 series lead after narrowly moving past Milwaukee in double OT in Game 3. That’s when the Bucks rattled off two straight wins in the series, setting up an intriguing Game 6 matchup in front of a hostile Milwaukee crowd. The fans didn’t have a long time to cheer after the Bulls were up 8-0 out the gate and never looked back. The Good Bulls decided to show up.
Chicago already led 34-16 after a dominant first quarter. Pau Gasol, who had been relatively quiet all series long, made quicker decisions and played with much more aggressiveness offensively in Game 6. He finished with 13 points, five rebounds and a block … in the first quarter. The Bulls were moving the ball quickly, negating any Bucks traps and double teams. Derrick Rose didn’t score in the first quarter, but his five assists in the frame set the tempo for Chicago.
Mike Dunleavy, a player who almost never sets up his own shot, led the Bulls with 20 points, with 19 coming in the first half. Dunleavy torching the Bucks epitomizes how fluid Chicago’s ball movement was on Thursday. The ball and players were constantly moving with far less stagnant possessions. Rose initiated the offensive much earlier, giving the Bulls more time to move the ball around and find better shots. The Bulls picked apart a Bucks defense that was intoxicating for the prior two games in this series. Rose finished with seven assists in the first half, setting the table for what was perhaps the best performance from the Bulls’ offense this season.
Defensively, Chicago made some necessary adjustments. The Bulls switched almost everything in the first half, preventing the Bucks from gaining separation on pick-and-rolls. It was the Bucks, not the Bulls, who were turning the ball over and looking out of sync offensively. The Bulls looked fresh and ready to put away a Bucks team that put up a heck of a fight in this series.
Chicago led 65-33 at half, the biggest halftime lead in franchise history in the playoffs. Their 54-point margin of victory when the game mercifully ended was the third-highest in postseason history and a new franchise playoff record. The fact that the Bulls did this in Game 6, and on the road no less, is an amazing feat. According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls are the first team in NBA history to win by 54 or more points in a Game 5 or later in a series. (Denver beat New Orleans, 121-63, in Game 4 in 2009.) Blowouts like this in the postseason are usually reserved for 1 vs. 8 matchups, not a 3 vs. 6 series where the underdog had already won twice. These Bulls just don’t make any sense, so don’t expect that to change next round.
Heading into a much-anticipated second-round matchup against an undermanned Cleveland squad, it remains to be seen which Bulls team will show up. Chicago is finally on the right side of the injury bug with Kevin Love out for the season, and not to mention J.R. Smith being suspended for the first two games of the series. Logic would seem to indicate that Chicago will jump out to an early series lead, but that would make too much sense for the Bulls. Expect a wild, rugged and entertaining as hell series between two teams that don’t like each other. Chicago vs. Cleveland … it doesn’t get much better than that in the Eastern Conference.