MILWAUKEE -- At the same time Derrick Rose bursted the Bradley Center with style points, the Bucks did not have any points at all.
And while it took longer than expected, Rose winning the game for Chicago while Milwaukee's offense lost the game for the Bucks was the most logical, most obvious conclusion long before the game started.
Before the Bulls ended the game on a 12-0 run, things were pretty peachy. Facing the top-ranked defensive team in the NBA, the Bucks improbably scored 25, 23, and 26 points in the first three quarters. Carlos Delfino had the hot hand early, John Salmons carried the middle of the game, and the fourth quarter started with what was a wire-to-wire lead and five-point advantage. But Milwaukee saved its worst for last, missing its final seven field goals over the final five minutes of the game. That stretch coincided with a mesmerizing display of point guard perfection by Rose, who scored (10 points) or assisted (2 assists) on every single Chicago basket in those decisive final five minutes.
Five minutes away from a win, less than four weeks left in the season, three more home games, two games out of the playoffs, one basketball team short on hope...
Carlos Delfino. After netting 5-7 three-pointers tonight, Carlitos has made a nutty 26 threes in the last five games on 61.3 % accuracy. Delfino's three-point shooting is (rightfully, to an extent) overshadowing the rest of his contributions, but active defense, increased rebounding, and competent ballhandling as well as playmaking duties are among those "rest of his contributions."
John Salmons. The fourth quarter (0-5 shooting, 0 points in 11 minutes) makes it very, very difficult for me to type nice things about Salmons. But through three quarters he was the star of the night on the leading team. Salmons got bendy around the hoop, disguising his lack of athleticism by expertly using the rim to shield defenders away from him. He made pull-ups off the dribble like it was 2010. And he gave Coach Skiles no reason to turn to Mike Redd. It was vintage Salmons... until it was just plain old old Salmons.
Andrew Bogut. If these choices were made relative to my expectations and hopes, Bogut's name would be here. He did not continue his four-game run of scoring at least 13 points (he scored 9), he did not outplay Joakim Noah, and he did not lift his team either offensively or defensively when they needed it so badly late in the fourth quarter. But Andrew Bogut being Andrew Bogut and going back and forth for 38 minutes on a basketball court tends to make him one of the three best players (out of eight total) by default on these types of nights.
42.9 % Before the game, Coach Skiles made the observations that (coming into the game) the Bulls were holding opponents to 42.9 % shooting, and that the Bucks were shooting 42.9 %. Skiles said that the Bucks would have to shoot better than that to win. The Bucks shot 39.2 %. The Bucks, in related news, did not win.
7. Derrick Rose had more assists (7) in the third quarter than any Buck had in the entire game (Brandon Jennings had 5).
0. The Bucks missed 16 shots in the fourth quarter, and yet they did not score a single second-chance point in the final 12 minutes. The Bucks secured exactly zero offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, and shot 0-3 on second-chance point opportunities. The Bucks also did not score a fastbreak point in the fourth quarter, while the Bulls racked up 8 on the break.
First 43 minutes. Not quite all 43, but the Bucks controlled (or at least led) this game until very, very late. Playing at home but not with a home-court advantage against the team with the best record in the East on the second night of a back-to-back, the Bucks were not overmatched whatsoever until the final couple minutes of the game. In fact, they led the entire game until less than two minutes remained. So as much as Derrick Rose took the game, the Bucks gave it away.
Carlito's Way. There was a time this season when Delfino's entire basketball career moving forward was a murky matter. So it is quite wonderful that he is not only back, but playing some of the very best NBA ball of his career of late.
Keeping Pace. The Pacers meekly lost to the Pistons (something the Bucks have also mastered) tonight, so Milwaukee remains just 2.0 games behind them for the final spot. Although, the Bobcats won against the Knicks (as is the rule), so the Bucks are also 1.5 behind them now. Charlotte might end up being the #8 seed despite being on record as not wanting to the #8 seed.
In Jordan's words, the Bobcats didn't "want to be the seventh or eighth seed" every season, and while I wish he would have effused that sentiment years ago while putting together a win-now team for 2010, this is the right course of action.
Fourth quarter flop. Right when Derrick Rose and Ronnie Brewer (seriously) were taking over the game for Chicago, it was Brandon Jennings and John Salmons who were losing it for Milwaukee. Granted, just about everyone on both teams played a part, but the team's respective backcourts were the most striking examples of what went right for Chicago and wrong for Milwaukee.
Jennings and Salmons missed everything in the fourth quarter -- together they shot 0-9 and missed all four shots under three minutes. The Bucks went mostly static late in the game after some really excellent dribble-penetration in the prior three quarters. Salmons was particularly infuriating late in the game. With 2:32 to go and the Bucks still up 87-85, he missed a jumper. On the team's next offensive possession, with the game now tied 87-87, he let the ball slip out of his hands and out of bounds. Then, after Rose gave Chicago its first lead at 89-87, Salmons was stuffed by Joakim Noah.
They missed some very makeable shots, but that line is played out, because there are reasons why Chicago boasts the top-ranked defense and there reasons why Milwaukee is a terrible offensive team -- and none of them are because Bucks players have shots unluckily rim out at some disproportionate rate.
Crowded. The atmosphere in the Bradley Center was amazing for a couple reasons. First, the team sold out (18,717) the BC for the third time this season, and the split allegiances of the fans made everyone on both sides cheer harder and louder. That lent a special, meaningful feeling to the game. But it was also amazing that the Bulls fans outnumbered Bucks fans in their own building, at least in terms of noisiness and color-coordination. As such, this would go in "Three Good" if this was a Bulls website. Alas ("used as an exclamation to express sorrow, grief, pity, concern, or apprehension of evil"), we gluttons for punishment watch and write and read about the Bucks.
Rotation issues. The starters are set at this point. I don't anticipate Skiles switching things up after some pretty credible performances by Jennings/Salmons/Delfino/Mbah a Moute/Bogut over the past couple weeks. And while Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling, and Jon Brockman did not play so well tonight as a whole, they have done a reasonable job in the last few weeks. But with big-ish names like Corey Maggette, Michael Redd, and Drew Gooden now active but not yet playing, Coach Skiles has a delicate situation to deal with, particularly as the team clings to fading playoff hopes.
With the team finally having more than 12 healthy players to choose from, Skiles had to pick a healthy player for the inactive list, and just in case you weren't already sure where he falls on the depth chart, Chris Douglas-Roberts was that inactive player tonight. He was a low-price pickup, so there is not much harm in it, but that Douglas-Roberts did not pan out in Milwaukee is disappointing to me, as someone who was optimistic about his chances when he was signed. Then there is Redd, who as one of the top players in franchise history, is not a normal player to work back in. Before the game, Skiles, on Redd's status:
If you came and watched us practice, you could not pick out the guy that's been out that long from a conditioning standpoint. But there is no question too, that you know, that he is, I wouldn't say rusty, but timing, things like that have to occur. It would be nice right now if we could and have a week full of practices. But we are in the thick of a battle right now, so we can't experiment too much.
It's not like the Bucks have gotten incredible production from the two spot this year, but Salmons has been coming around somewhat lately, and Skiles has liked going with Dooling as the backup shooting guard for his ballhandling and defense, neither of which Redd offers. Then there is Gooden, who has been active but not playing for a couple games now. But with Mbah a Moute back in the starting five and Larry Sanders showing more and more, it is hard to envision what role he will play either. And Corey Maggette did not play again and hardly looks like a part of the future after playing two minutes over the past five games.
With just 10 games remaining this season, we don't anything know more than we did four months ago. And the little that we do know, we probably wish we didn't know.