A week ago, conventional wisdom suggested that the Milwaukee Bucks entered their playoff series with the Chicago Bulls with nothing to lose.
Technically speaking, however, they enter Saturday evening's game four with everything to lose -- at least in terms of their 14/15 season. Trailing 3-0 after a double-OT home loss on Thursday, the Bucks are on the brink of a summer vacation everyone assumed would arrive a bit earlier. One more loss and their series and season is over.
What happened in Game 3
Another Bulls win, another game-winning performance from Chicago's dynamic backcourt duo. Derrick Rose's best game in who-knows-how-long saw him score 34 while dishing eight assists, with running mate Jimmy Butler adding 24 (albeit on 8/20 shooting). The Bulls fought back from an 18-point second quarter deficit and appeared on their way to victory in regulation before Khris Middleton's sharp-shooting nearly won it for the Bucks late. Milwaukee then had another chance to win it at the end of the first overtime, but O.J. Mayo's difficult shot wasn't close and the Bulls put it away quickly in the second overtime to win 113-106. Rose (5/9), Mike Dunleavy (4/6) and Tony Snell (4/8) combined to shoot 13/23 from three point range, helping Chicago once again pile up a huge advantage (+24) from deep. Toss in an ugly 14/25 free throw shooting night from the Bucks and it was simply too much to overcome.
That was the bad news, though there were still plenty of positives for Jason Kidd's bunch. Giannis Antetokounmpo's breakout game is the most obvious, as the 20-year-old playoff debutante shook off two rough games in Chicago by scoring 25 (10/22 fg, 5/8 ft) to go with 12 boards and a pair of blocks. John Henson also offered up another strong outing with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in 39 minutes, while Jared Dudley (11 pts) was a key part of the Bucks' second quarter surge playing next to Giannis.
What needs to change for game 4
How do you
stop contain Derrick Rose? With the exception of the first half of game 2, the Bucks have been largely incapable of slowing down the 2011 MVP thus far, creating a feel good story for the Bulls (and the league in general) while causing nothing but headaches for Jason Kidd and company.
D-Rose, playoffs splits. D-ROOOOSSSEEE pic.twitter.com/U7BQB7xphn— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 24, 2015
Derrick Rose has a 111.5 ORtg and a 93.9 DRtg in the playoffs. Unfair.— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) April 25, 2015
It's far easier said than done, but setting your defense quickly and rolling multiple bodies at Rose is more or less the only way you can hope to contain him individually. Game three saw Rose splitting doubles and finding room even when the Bucks were ready for him, but that doesn't mean the Bucks can afford to simply let him go one-on-one either. For more, check out Zach Lowe's terrific overview of Rose's re-emergence.
The Bucks probably don't need to attack Rose/Noah pick-and-rolls so aggressively; the combination doesn't feature enough shooting to justify the mad rush. But this is how the Bucks play. They hit first, confident all those long arms behind the play can scramble around and force the Bulls into third, fourth, and fifth options as the shot clock dwindles.
Consistency over four quarters would also do the Bucks some good; not surprisingly they've struggled to maintain the same level of play over the course of a whole game against the more talented Bulls, with Chicago's three point shooting enabling Thibodeau's club to turn it on and blitz the Bucks more often than vice versa. Not getting burned by the likes of Snell and Dunleavy on the perimeter would be nice, though that's the risk associated with the Bucks' blitzing defense. Allowing the Bulls back into the game before halftime on Thursday really hurt, and the Bucks also seemed to run out of ideas in the second overtime on Thursday.
As good as they were at times, guys like Giannis and Middleton also had extended periods of invisibility on Thursday (Giannis in the latter stages of the game, Khris earlier on), which is both expected and problematic for a young team like the Bucks. No one expects 48 minutes of brilliance, but Milwaukee can ill afford for Middleton, Giannis and Michael Carter-Williams to stand around and hope for someone else to make something happen.
What to watch for
Whether the Bucks can maintain the energy, edge and belief that had them this close to a win on Thursday is perhaps the biggest question entering Saturday night's matchup. With Chicago on the verge of a sweep, there figure to be even more Bulls fans at the BC tonight than Thursday, and the psychological edge will clearly be in Chicago's favor after Thursday's draining loss. Any remote chance of Milwaukee winning the series went out the window with that loss, but it would still be a major statement for the Bucks to shake off those frustrations and take a game off a Bulls team that is now firing on all cyclinders.
The only downside for Chicago is Nikola Mirotic's lingering knee injury, which will presumably prevent him from playing for the second straight game.
|2014/2015 NBA Postseason: Chicago leads 3-0|
|April 25, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|TNT | Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Derrick Rose|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Jimmy Butler|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Mike Dunleavy|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Pau Gasol|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Joakim Noah|