The Chicago Bulls are preparing for the Finals. Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals were terms loaded into the lexicon of the team from the opening tip of the opening game. With the second best record in the conference they could have rested banged up all-stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng heading into the break, but that's not how the operation works in Chicago. Everything is done hard. Head coach Tom Thibodeau believes effort and energy are renewable resources that can't be saved up for later; players should exert maximum effort every night, or else it is wasted. Rose, Deng and everyone else understand the team goal and trust the unrelenting approach of their coach. It's a beautiful thing.
The Milwaukee Bucks are preparing the all-star break. Injuries and .500 basketball were terms loaded into the lexicon of the team from the opening tip of the opening game. With the tenth best record in the conference they happily rested Stephen Jackson heading into the break, because he doesn't think the operation works in Milwaukee. Everything is hard. Head coach Scott Skiles believes effort and energy are renewable resources that can't be saved up for later; players should exert maximum effort every night, or else it is wasted. Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson and others can't agree on a team goal and remain suspicious of the unrelenting approach of their coach. It couldn't be uglier.
Guess what happened when they played head-to-head at the United Center on Wednesday night.
After Rose torched them on Jan. 27 (34 points, 59.9% TS) and again on Feb. 4 (26 points, 13 assists) the Bucks schemed to prevent an encore performance. From the outset they routinely trapped the reigning MVP on high pick-and-roll. Although the hard trap at the top of the key can get the ball out of reigning MVP's hands, it also opens up two other aspects of an offense: (1) role players are freed up for mid-range jumpshots and (2) offensive rebounding opportunities become plentiful by taking additional defenders away from the paint. Chicago's role players all answered the bell.
On the scoring front, Carlos Boozer exacted a team-high 20 points on 9-12 shooting, Ronnie Brewer scored 15 points on 7-10 accuracy, and Kyle Korver added 11 points on 5-8 from the field. With Bucks defenders rushing to the perimeter to trap and scrambling to recover, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah both snared five offensive rebounds and added enough on the other end to hit double-digits, as the Bulls earned an overwhelming 49-29 advantage on the glass.
Rose resisted the urge to force the issue against traps -- he still managed 16 points on 6-13 shooting and 7 assists -- and Noah stepped into the spotlight. He recorded his first career triple-double as he scored 13 points, claimed 13 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. The goofy Bulls center maintained an angry energy on the glass but worked calmly to beat defensive rotations with his passing. When defenders gave him space, he unleashed his unsightly jumper and found success. Noah had himself a night, and pulled out his signature "Finga Gunz" celebration again just for good measure. The "we aren't going to let player x beat us" defense always feels like a nice way to lose with dignity, but this loss should be called non-embarrassing rather than dignified.
The Bucks never led after the 7:45 mark in the first quarter, and the Bulls held a double digit margin for all but 60 seconds of the second half. Milwaukee's offense looked like Milwaukee's offense. Brandon Jennings needed 20 shots to score 20 points. Carlos Delfino scored 5 points on 2-5 shooting in the first half and then faded again to finish with 7 just points and a 3-12 mark. Jon Leuer once again impressed by scoring well in extended minutes (14 point on 7-11 field goals in 20 minutes), but he only grabbed one defensive rebound and a paltry four in total. Ersan Ilyasova played almost the exact same game as Leuer, and also struggled to rebound against a more athletic front line.
The bench couldn't save the Bucks this time. Mike Dunleavy couldn't shoot straight, Larry Sanders couldn't find a way to make a positive impact, Beno Udrih put up four assists and three steals but didn't dazzle.
The Bucks badly needed a break. They fell to a season-worst seven games below .500 in the loss, and things are looking bleak going forward. A critical reassessment is required. Anyone paying any amount of attention knows it. Let's see what happens.
Jon Leuer (14 points on 7-11 shooting, 4 rebounds) - He shot the ball well, but failed to make the high traps on Rose pay off because he only pulled down one defensive rebound.
Ersan Ilyasova (15 points on 6-11 shooting, 4 rebounds) - See: Leuer, Jon.
Brandon Jennings (20 points on 8-20 shooting, 5 assists, 3 turnovers) - Another day, another under 50% performance from the field and another middling effort distributing the ball. It could easily have been Beno Udrih or Shaun Livingston here, but the third Buck in a 19 point loss isn't exactly the time to take a principled stand.
54.4% - The Bulls shot 54.4 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from three, which limited the impact of the 20 turnovers the Bucks forced.
49-29 - The rebounding differential, which tilted heavily in favor of the Bulls.
13-13-10 - Joakim Noah's points, rebounds and assists on the night. He collected his first career triple-double.
I'd rather not compliment Joakim Noah any further, so I respectfully decline to fill out this section.
I'd rather not criticize the Bucks any further, so I once again abstain from the exercise.