A week ago, the Milwaukee Bucks could easily have been confused for dead and buried. After a heartbreaking double-overtime loss at home in game 3, it would have been only human for Jason Kidd's club to drop their heads and lose some of the edge that helped them play competitive (if not attractive) basketball for the first three games.
And yet they didn't.
While Bulls fans might have smelled blood in game four, the Bulls themselves couldn't put away a plucky Bucks team that escaped with a 92-90 win thanks to great defense, a critical timeout call from Jason Kidd, and an absurd pass-and-finish from Jared Dudley to Jerryd Bayless that gave Bucks fans something to celebrate. Still, even optimistic Bucks fans had to be beside themselves after watching the Bucks dominate defensively in Monday night's 5 win, which brings us to today. While no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series, three teams have forced a seventh and decisive game. On Thursday the Bucks look to become the fourth.
What Happened in Game 5
Anyone expecting the Bulls to come out with a vengeance following their game four buzzer-beating loss was sorely disappointed on Monday. The Bucks took the crowd out of it early by racing to a 9-0 lead to start the game, and following a strong Bulls response Milwaukee reeled off another 7-0 run to end the quarter with a 23-22 lead. Personally, I assumed the Bulls would put the Bucks on their heels at some point, but the Bucks' defense and the Bulls' shooting struggles assured that it never happened. The Bucks built their lead to three at the half and six after three quarters, absorbing the Bulls' best punches and never trailing in the second half.
Ultimately it was a tale of two backcourts, and for once this series Milwaukee's came out on top. After watching the bench do the heavy lifting on Saturday, Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton stepped up with big games to pace the Bucks with a combined 43 points on 18/31 shooting. And after collectively carrying the Bulls offensively for four games, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose combined for a miserable 10/41 shooting on Monday, as the Bulls scuffed their way to just 34% shooting overall.
What Needs to Happen in Game 6
How about more of the same?
Carter-Williams and Middleton provided the scoring punch that had been sorely lacking from the starters, and it figures the Bucks will once again need multiple strong performances from the starting five to have a chance to extend the series to seven games. With Giannis Antetokounmpo struggling to make a consistent impact and Ersan Ilyasova largely MIA, Middleton and MCW stepped up in game 5 and they may well need to be the guys again in game 6. But hey, the more the merrier.
Defensively the Bucks didn't force as many turnovers in Chicago (13 compared to 28 in game 4), but their defensive rotations (inside and out) were as good as we've seen them all series, which made Chicago's wretched 34% shooting overall and 4/22 effort from deep a bit more understandable. I wouldn't expect another night like that from the Bulls, but it's a good sign that the Bulls aren't getting better at solving the Bucks' defense as the series wears on.
What to Watch For
Derrick Rose had dominated the point guard matchup until game 5, and you can bet he'll be eager to reassert the form we saw in games 1 and 3 in particular. The good news for Chicago is that Rose has been vastly better with two or more days rest, something he didn't have in either of the Bucks' two previous wins. Grantland's Zach Lowe writes that MCW's big night doesn't necessarily mean a corner has been turned either.
If anything, Chicago isn’t going under enough screens on MCW pick-and-rolls in this series, and the Bucks exploited that repeatedly in Monday’s huge road win. The Bucks knew there would be growing pains transitioning from Brandon Knight to Michael Carter-Williams, but they didn’t think it would be this bad. Carter-Williams is shooting 44.4 percent in the playoffs, thanks to Monday’s monster Game 5 performance in Chicago that stands, for now, as a happy outlier. Defenses stuff the paint when the Bucks play Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and one traditional big man — even with shooters at the other two positions.
Make no mistake, MCW's 22p/9a/8r/3b night on Monday was a statement game for the young guard, but they'll probably need another strong effort from him tonight to keep their season alive. Expect the Bulls to do a better job sending a second guy at MCW tonight, something they seemed to struggle with on Monday. A couple times early on MCW faked Pau Gasol into hedging off him for a pass, and thereafter Carter-Williams did well finding angles to get makeable shots in the paint against Rose.
|2014/2015 NBA Postseason: Chicago leads 3-2|
|April 30, 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|