Well at least the first quarter was entertaining, eh?
The Bucks' return to the playoffs proved to be a losing one on Saturday night in Chicago, as a competitive start gave way to a punchless finish in a 103-91 loss to the Bulls. Derrick Rose (23 pts/7ast) and Jimmy Butler (25 pts/6 ast) punished the Bucks inside and out, while the Bucks had precisely no one punishing the Bulls outside and only John Henson doing anything of consequence inside. Which reminds us: If John Henson (5/6 fg, 12 pts, 7 rebs) is the only Buck playing well offensively, the Bucks are going to be in a world of hurt.
After hitting 10 of their first 14 shots, the Bucks bricked their way to a 25/75 (33%) finish, and they kept it respectable mostly thanks to the 25 points they scored off 19 Chicago turnovers. But "respectable" shouldn't be confused with "close"; the Bulls seized control of the game early in the second behind Rose, and they then used the three ball to keep the Bucks at arm's length the rest of the way. With Pau Gasol struggling inside (5/17 fg), the Bulls were +24 from three (12/32 vs. 4/16) as the Bucks wasted open looks time and again.
After days of everyone talking about defense, the first quarter unexpectedly turned into a track meet. Turnovers and early offense helped a balanced Bucks squad hang tough, though Aaron Brooks' banked buzzer beater ultimately gave Chicago a 30-29 edge after one. Unfortunately, Rose then began to look like his former self in the second, repeatedly attacking the Bucks off the dribble for rim finishes on his way to 12 first half points (6/8 fg). The news was less promising on the other end, where Michael Carter-Williams was trying to do too much off the dribble -- note to MCW: you don't have to match Rose shot for shot -- and Jared Dudley, O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova were ominously missing open looks from the perimeter as Chicago went into the half up 60-51.
Middleton then scored six quick points to draw the Bucks within striking distance early in the third, but Rose answered with three triples and 11 points in the period to stiff-arm the Bucks' advances. Pachulia and Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't help the cause by picking up silly fourth fouls to limit their involvement, and the Bucks' bench struggled to take advantage of some uneven Bulls play late in the third and early in the fourth.
-- If there's a silver lining to this loss, it's that the Bucks had plenty of open looks from the perimeter and were able to speed the game up with their defensive pressure for multiple stretches. The downside of course was that they really didn't take advantage of those opportunities with any consistency. Particularly in the second half the Bucks seemed to squander their transition opportunities -- among others, Mayo looked particularly lost on a few occasions trying to go 1-on-2 on the break, while Giannis blew a lefty layup when Butler simply backed away from contact.
-- The Bucks will need something from their bench to avoid a sweep, and tonight they didn't get it. Mayo missed six of seven shots and Dudley was just 1/4, the kind of numbers that will make it very difficult to win. Henson and Bayless (4/7 fg, 11 pts, 5 ast) were better, though it didn't seem like Bayless played as well as his final numbers suggest.
-- The Bucks' win against the Bulls last month was in no small part a result of MCW's domination of the smaller Aaron Brooks in the paint, yet Kidd's rotations seemed strangely oblivious to recreating that mismatch tonight. By bringing Bayless off the bench first to play with MCW, Kidd allowed Thibodeau to bring Brooks in only when there was a smaller PG to hide him against. Part of that is a byproduct of Brooks coming off the bench now that Rose is back, part of that is Thibs outwitting Kidd.
-- Giannis struggled offensively in the last two games of the regular season, and his luck didn't change tonight. He missed all five of his jump shots and scored just two points after halftime, struggling to 12 points on 4/13 shooting. It wasn't all bad of course -- a tough finish over Joakim Noah and a pretty isolation move and lefty finish on Nikola Mirotic were more promising. But he'll need to take advantage of the open looks he'll be getting from outside, and it also wouldn't hurt to settle for them less often one-on-one.
-- MCW finished with the same shooting line as Giannis, hitting a couple early shots and then falling into the "any shot inside 15 feet is a good shot" trap that he's often struggled with. He added just three assists to go with three turnovers, and generally over-extended himself trying to match Rose shot-for-shot. In short it's tough to see the Bucks winning any games with MCW this ineffective, though it would have helped if he had been matched against Brooks more regularly, too. Still, give Thibodeau and the Bulls credit -- they made MCW try to beat them and he couldn't.
-- Rose was 6/9 in the paint and 3/7 from deep; the latter is probably more of an aberration for a sub-30% three point shooter, but the former is more concerning and likely gave him the confidence to shoot from deep. Rose has always been a below-average three-point shooter, so for the most part you can live with him hitting contested three pointers. But the Bucks also struggled to gang tackle Rose off the dribble in the first half -- MCW wasn't that bad defensively, but he also had no help when Rose found a crease. The Bucks did better in the second half, but Rose answered with a couple of corkscrewing assists to the far corner even when the Bucks defended him well.