Down In A Hole

After the surprising but clear-cut victory by the Chicago Bulls over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of this opening round Eastern Conference playoff series, it looked as though things might go past 6 games. The defending NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks had other ideas. In the first two home playoff games the Bulls have played in 5 years, they were taken to the woodshed and beat to within an inch of their lives. Thoroughly WHUPPED (and you pronounce that “h”). Game 3 finished 111-81, and Game 4 ended 119-95. The losses were ugly, more than a little embarrassing, and downright disheartening, especially after all the hope Game 2 brought Bulls fans. Milwaukee got serious, and the Bulls got beat.

What Happened?

I think you can point to 4 things that helped dig this 3-1 series hole the Bulls are staring up out of: Size, shooting, intensity, and heroics.

Quite simply, the Milwaukee Bucks are bigger and stronger than the Chicago Bulls. Even with Khris Middleton out, the Bucks were still able to trot out a starting lineup that featured Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis, all three players are 6′ 10″ or taller, fast, and athletic. Normally, when you’re opponent goes big you counter with a small, quick, and athletic lineup, and try to run the Bigs off the court. That doesn’t work on Milwaukee’s Bigs, they can keep up and outpace the smallball lineups that Billy Donovan and the Bulls trot out there. Giannis alone has massacred the Bulls smallball lineup, bullying anyone that dares defend him in the paint. Even when Giannis CHOOSES not to get to the rim, I say “chooses” because I don’t think the Bulls have a way of stopping him when he’s driving the paint, he’s dished the ball out to waiting teammates who hit wide open 3’s.

Which brings us to shooting. The Bucks have been lights out when it comes to hitting their shots. Grayson Allen, that piece of shit, has never seen so many wide open opportunities at corner and wing 3’s in his life. To his credit, he is has made the Bulls pay for leaving him open. Allen is shooting 61.1% from behind the arc, that’s stooopid good. The Bulls, on the other hand, have struggled with their shooting. Milwaukee has done a great job taking away easy buckets at the rim. The size and length of their interior defenders has effectively forced the Bulls to rely on jump shots to get their points, and those shots are not going in. Even when the ball finds it’s way to an open shooter on the perimeter, the Bulls have been unable to take advantage of wide open shots the same way the Bucks and Grayson Allen have.

Shooting hasn’t been the only thing the Bucks have been better at than the Bulls. After the Game 2 loss, Milwaukee has raised the intensity and focus of their play. The easiest way to see this intangible is in how the Bucks seem to beat the Bulls to every loose ball. There was a play, I think it was in Game 3, where a Bulls player had a pass swatted away and the ball was nonchalantly bouncing toward the sideline. Content to just let the ball bounce out of bounds and retain possession, not a single Bulls player made a move to chase the ball down. Meanwhile, Pat Connaughton, Buck’s bench player, sprinted from the wing, scooped the ball up and turned that loose ball into easy transition points. I think Milwaukee was up by about 20 points when it happened, so it would have been easy for Connaughton to have just let the ball go out of bounds, but that’s not what a winning team does.

The Bucks understand that in the playoffs, you have to end teams. Getting them down by 20 points isn’t enough. Why win by 20 when you can win by 30? Milwaukee is playing like every possession is their last. They believe every loose ball could be the difference in the game, even when they have a significant lead. The Bulls have not consistently matched that intensity level. They have not respected each possession the way you need to in the playoffs.

A lack of intensity and focus has also led to a sad realization, there are no heroes on the Bulls roster. No Bulls player has stepped up their play in the playoffs, not on a nightly basis. Bulls stats are pretty much on par with their regular season stats or even below their averages in some cases. Those players I named as x-factors at the beginning of this series, Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, and Patrick Williams, have shown little-to-nothing in their time on the court, compared to the production the Bucks have gotten from Portis and Allen, the outlook for the Bulls is bleak.

There is a huge gap between the Bulls and the Bucks, and I’m not just talking about the 3-1 series lead Milwaukee holds. Whether it’s roster construction, individual talent and/or effort, it’s clear that the Milwaukee Bucks are a better team than the Chicago Bulls.

And now, the bad news.

If the Bulls are to make a miraculous comeback in this series it will most likely have to come without Alex Caruso and Zach LaVine. Caruso was placed in Concussion Protocols on Monday, and LaVine entered Health and Safety Protocols for Covid on Tuesday. We are very likely about to watch the last Bulls game of the 2021-22 season tonight. It’s been a fun ride, but it got pretty rough the last couple months. Whether it ends tonight or keeps trucking, as always, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!