When Kevin Love went down with a serious shoulder injury that looked to be significant enough to keep him out for extended time (and indeed, Love is done for the year), Bulls fans were salivating at the thought of their second-round matchup with the Cavaliers. All of a sudden, things looked to be tilted in their favor. But it seems like Chicago, after winning the first three games of its series against the Bucks, have gotten some semifinals cold feet.
This series looked all but over when Game 4 rolled in last Saturday, but a Derrick Rose miscue on a potential game-winning possession gave Milwaukee life, and they’d go on to capitalize on the strength of a game-winning layup by Jerryd Bayless as time expired. This appeared to be a mental defensive lapse on the part of Rose, and it cost Chicago a chance at a first-round sweep that would have netted them some extra rest days.
When Game 6 begins Thursday night, there will be a sense of urgency felt like no other for the Bulls, who are attempting to keep their name out of the history books. No team has ever come back to win a series after trailing 3-0, and the Bucks are certainly playing with house money. There weren’t too many people who expected much of them this season, and that was before the highly touted Jabari Parker was lost for the rest of the year due to a torn ACL.
So far in the postseason, the Bulls have been the best defensive team, only giving up 93.0 points per game on 39.7 percent shooting and ranking first among playoff teams in defensive efficiency. They also lead all the playoff teams in rebounding, grabbing 50.0 boards per game. So what’s the issue? Why isn’t this series over?
As we have seen in the past, the struggle has come offensively for Chicago. It’s something we have grown accustomed to witnessing over the past few years, when not even the Bulls’ stout defense could make up for the mediocre to bad offensive play in the postseason.
But with the acquisition of Pau Gasol and the return of Rose, this team had the increased talent to become more dangerous offensively. Also, Jimmy Butler took the leap to stardom, while Nikola Mirotic emerged and made a late run for the Rookie of the Year award. After the break, Mirotic averaged 16.0 points, which was up from the 7.1 he averaged prior to the Madison Square Garden festivities. Mike Dunleavy was looked upon as someone who could spread the floor, and he did just that to the tune of 40.7 percent from downtown in the 63 games he played in the regular season.
The Bulls were improved but inconsistent offensively throughout the season, but one could attribute this to the influx of injuries that transpired. But with most of the team healthy, there’s no reason this series shouldn’t be over.
I expect Chicago to come out hungry as ever in Game 6 and get a decisive road win to set up a date with Cleveland. With Love out and J.R. Smith suspended for the first two games of the series, some may consider the Bulls the favorite. However, inconsistency and trepidation surrounding the health of Rose and Mirotic may have fans nervous.
But you know what would allow some of those fears to dissipate? An impressive win Thursday night against an elite defensive team in Milwaukee. We know Rose and Joakim Noah are looking for their first playoff series win against LeBron James, so they’d like to come out and dominate the Bucks and have a chance to see those plans come to fruition.