- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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Like kids banging pots and pans when you’re trying to sleep in, this young Bucks team is a bit of a nuisance.
No NBA team has ever lost a series in which it led 3-0, and I don’t think the Bulls will be the first.
But as reporters joked Monday night after the Bulls’ 94-88 loss to Milwaukee in Game 5 at the United Center, maybe we should start asking Bucks coach Jason Kidd about Kevin Love’s injury. Just in case.
All I’m saying is if the Bucks had a healthy Jabari Parker, maybe he could have won a fifth state title.
Enough jokes. This is serious business. NBA playoffs. A chance for immortality. Or at least an opportunity to see Cleveland in May.
For the second straight game, the overconfident and underachieving Bulls got outworked by the defensively minded young Bucks. Does everyone on that roster have a 7-foot wingspan, or has that crafty Kidd managed to play six guys at a time?
“I think they just played harder than we did,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “On both ends of the floor. End of story. They played harder than we did.”
Oh, OK. Can I stop writing then?
A possible sweep with an eye on dethroning LeBron James has become another inconsistent stretch in a maddening season for a team that still has championship dreams.
What, you thought this was going to be easy? Have you watched the Bulls this season?
This team has potential, and yes, that’s present tense, but it hasn’t had continuity or consistency all season. Why start now?
“At times, we just think we’re too good,” Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said. “Because you look at how our team was made up over the last couple years, how we were defensive-minded first and we didn’t really worry about scoring the ball. We just relied on our defense and got out in transition. We have so many different weapons at times, we tend to think we’re going to come back.
“And that’s good to have that feeling, knowing we can come back and push the issue late, but we have to play for 48 minutes.”
Gibson, who probably should have played more than 3½ minutes in the fourth quarter, credited the Bucks for making tough shots and playing hard, but he thinks the Bulls “just got lax, to be honest with you.”
“At the start of the game, I thought we weren’t ready,” Gibson said. “We were just going to walk into the game and close the series out. That team has talent.”
So do the Bulls, but most of that talent didn’t show up.
Butler and/or Derrick Rose carried the Bulls for the first five games of this series. But in Monday's game they combined to go 10-for-41 from the field -- 5-for-20 for Rose and 5-for-21 for Butler.
The Bulls had 28 turnovers in their previous “closeout” game, and their backcourt shot 24 percent. That's how a 3-0 lead shrinks to 3-2.
After shooting 46.2 percent on 3-pointers in the first four games of the series, Rose (13 points in 42 minutes, 27 seconds) missed all seven 3-pointers he took Monday. And he had six turnovers, one game after having eight.
Butler scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds in 46:28 in Game 5, but he missed 14 of 17 shots inside the 3-point arc. After the game, he was beating himself up about his defense.
“I’m supposed to be the prime-time defensive guy, and I haven’t been guarding a soul,” Butler said. “I’ve been worried about offense too much, and I need to change that quickly or it’s going to be my fault.”
The Bucks trap and double-team, and they do it with dogged consistency. But this isn’t high school, the Bulls should be able to adjust. See, there’s a thing called “the weak side.”
“It should be easy basketball,” Rose said. “But somehow we’re making it hard.”
For the Rose critics, he’s typically tougher on himself than the angry souls waiting patiently on hold to tell you he stinks. He seemed ready to put this game past him, though.
One thing he needs to do in the next game is figure out how to defend Carter-Williams in the paint. Carter-Williams scored 22 points, hitting 10 of 14 shots inside the 3-point line, and added eight assists.
“He hit a lot of tough shots,” Rose said. “Shots that he hit, I was trying not to foul. I had my arms up, and he kept making them. It’s the first game he made that many shots. Tough shots, but he made them. I’ll make an adjustment next time.”
Rose has to lead, and play much better, but the Bulls aren’t built around one man alone.
The good news is the Bulls’ frontcourt had decent games.
Pau Gasol had his best game of the series, scoring 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting and adding 10 rebounds and four assists. Gibson had 12 points in 14:40. Most importantly, Joakim Noah had his best game of the series with 10 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Noah looked like he remembered the ball goes in the basket on one end.
"Whenever he's out there, they're giving him a lot of room," Rose said of Noah. "They're not helping, so he has to look for the basket and look to score."
On one hand, the Bulls' effort was a problem. On the other, if Rose and Butler make a few more shots, it’s a different game. An ugly win against a scrappy team.
“Tonight, shots weren’t falling,” Rose said. “They looked good, but they weren’t falling.”
In the fourth quarter, the Bulls went 7-for-30 from the field, including a wretched 3-for-20 showing in the paint. Butler missed six of seven shots, while Rose went 3-for-9.
Everyone was waiting in vain for another Bulls comeback, and the next thing you know, the game was over.
“This game is already behind me,” Rose said.
That’s a good attitude. There’s still more basketball ahead for the Bulls.
But if they keep playing like this, not that much more.
Did you think this would be easy for the Bulls? "Somehow we're making it hard," Derrick Rose said.