Bulls are deer in headlights in loss to Bucks


Apr 7

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I know if you were a Bulls fan what you wanted to do if you were watching Tuesday’s awful, 79-74 Milwaukee Bucks victory over the Bulls, especially with Toronto losing in Cleveland with a chance to tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

After kicking in your TV screen.

Sign a shooter. Can’t anyone here make a shot? Hello, Joe Johnson?

Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose combined to shoot four for 15 in the fourth quarter with all playing 12 minutes as the Bulls recovered from a 12-point third quarter deficit to take a lead with 6:33 left and then miss 11 of their next 13 shots.

“Early in the game we were moving the ball (27-14 first quarter lead) and getting good looks,” said Hinrich. “They picked up their defensive pressure and we did a poor job of handling it. From the second quarter on, I felt like they outworked us. We kind of have a tendency when we struggle to go on our own (no pass and quick shot). We have to make the extra pass. We were not tonight. I felt like we missed some good, open looks. I don’t know if they wore us down or what. It seems like they were guarding the crap out of us.”

What the heck was Brad Miller doing driving the ball coming out of a timeout with 13.2 seconds left trailing 77-74? That was the play?

“We were trying to get a three over the top,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “If not, get the quick two and foul. Brad tried to dribble and slipped.”

Yes, turnover. Though Miller did make a big three point play on a run out for a slam and three-point play to bring the Bulls within 72-72 with 2:34 left. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds and reasonable four of nine shooting in 17 minutes. But there were no three point shooters on the floor. Flip Murray, who had been hot and was three of four for the game, and Jannero Pargo were out. Murray came in for defense when the Bulls had to foul after Miller’s travel.

The Bucks committed their fourth team foul with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter, yet five of the Bulls next seven shots were jumpers. For the game, the Bulls attempted 11 free throws to 22 for the visiting Bucks playing, by the way, without injured center Andrew Bogut.

“We only got to the line 11 times, so we were not attacking the basket and settling for too many jump shots,” agreed Vinny Del Negro. “Milwaukee was drawing and kicking, got good performances from some guys (former Bull John Salmons with 26). We held them to 36 percent shooting and rebounding was pretty equal. The bottom line is they made plays down the stretch and they made shots; we didn’t. We did hold them to 79. You are not going to beat many teams scoring 74 points. It was not a solid 48 minutes for us.”

It was just a brutal night, a wasted opportunity with Toronto’s loss and Chris Bosh being injured, the Bucks without their best player in Bogut, the Bucks shooting even worse than the Bulls at 36.4 percent, yet much more committed as the Bucks clinched a playoff spot with the win while the Bulls, in even a more desperate situation, played more indifferently.

Hard to believe at a time like this as the Bulls fell to 37-40 on the season.

Milwaukee wasn’t better or more talented. They started little used Kurt Thomas, averaging about 13 minutes and three rebounds and he led everyone with 14 rebounds. The starters other than Salmons shot a combined six for 26. Ersan Ilyasova had 17 points and seven rebounds and Luke Ridnour 13 points, though each was one of five on threes in the Bucks’ overall seven of 29 on threes.

This game was there for the taking, especially when the Bulls busted out to that 13-point lead and shot almost 70 percent in the first quarter.

But they got lazy and sloppy with the ball and were outscored by an amazing 28-9 in the second quarter.

“We came out all right,” said Rose, who had 12 points and 11 assists but six turnovers. “But then the turnovers and no one could get in the groove and pull us out. Usually, one of the guards can pull us out and couldn’t tonight. We let them back in the game. We should have got them out of there. They fought their way back. We weren’t moving the ball and when we were moving it, it was me making dumb passes or making the wrong pass and that really hurt us. Turnovers. I had almost all of them.”

But give the Bucks, and especially coach Scott Skiles credit.

Skiles was especially pumped up with the win, exulting on the sideline with fist pumps and touchdown signals on the late plays when Miller traveled and then Hinrich missed.

But the Bucks were well prepared and outplayed the Bulls.

The Bulls defense, though the Bucks shot poorly, was generally lazy. Instead of aggressive man to man principles to force turnovers, the Bulls switched constantly, leaving mismatches all over the floor and the Bucks getting some good looks.

“We shot like 36 percent from the field and without the defense we didn’t have a chance,” said Skiles. “In the second quarter, we picked it up and created turnovers that helped us finish the first half. We were able to take a lead and get the momentum on our side. We had open shots all night but just weren’t making them.” The Bucks do a beautiful job of driving, kicking the ball out and then moving it around.

“They moved the ball real well,” admired Taj Gibson. “They play a fast, real up-tempo game knowing Bogut is out. They just came in ready to play. Salmons came back and hit a bunch of big shots. We just couldn’t do it on the other end. We just had shots that didn’t fall tonight.”

Salmons benefitted from the ball movement and player movement and said that’s one reason he’s played better in this second half.

“The ball is in my hands a lot,” Salmons said. “I’m not standing around. There’s more movement and it just fits me better.”

Salmons had complained earlier this season about being left to stand in the corner without movement.

The Bucks also did as good a job on Rose as any team this season. They basically dared the Bulls to hit shots—a good dare as it turned out—so they trapped Rose but stayed with him and always kept another big man behind in case Rose turned the corner or beat the double or a guard dropping down. It also didn’t help having Joakim Noah in so many of those screen/rolls as Noah isn’t much threat, though he did make some jumpers and had eight points and 11 rebounds.

Deng led the Bulls with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but along with Hinrich going 44 minutes, seemed to wear out down the stretch. Deng did also play 44 minutes after being out a month and without much practice or conditioning time since. Hakim Warrick only played four minutes.

“Our goal with him is like it is for all the good ones and twos in this league,” said Skiles of defending Rose. “That is to make them play in a crowd. We need to make them pass like we did tonight. Sometimes our big guys did it and others our guards collapsed on them.”

The game probably was lost in the second quarter after the Bulls dominated with the Bucks were in their first game without Bogut. But the Bulls missed 14 of 17 second quarter shots, 10 of them long jumpers. It gave the Bucks life, and they took a 42-36 halftime lead.

What’s this, NCAA?

“They outworked us in the second quarter and that changed the momentum of the game,” said Hinrich. “Anytime you lose it’s a lost opportunity. We have a tendency to relax (with leads). We relaxed and they cranked it up and got more aggressive and we didn’t have an answer.”

Milwaukee controlled the third quarter as the Bulls played into their scheme by holding the ball as the Bucks pressured and played aggressively over screens.

“We definitely knew we’d have to win this game at the defensive end,” said Salmons. “At the start of the second quarter, we turned it up, got some stops and that’s what turned our offense on. This is a big win for a lot of reasons. It’s the first with Andrew out and our playoffs are clinched. Scott took this team and has turned it around. Even before I got here, we knew when we played the Bucks it would be a tough game and they’d play hard. Tonight you saw that. We didn’t score a lot of points but we got the win.”

So here were the Bulls with 51 points heading into the fourth quarter, trailing 60-51.

But they got a huge boost from the bench with Murray scoring on a drive and slam, a runout pass from Rose and a runner while Miller hit a jumper and a driving slam. When Rose exploded through the trap and scored, the Bulls were at 63-63 with 8:08 left and the crowd into the game.

They should have taken it from there.

What an opportunity with Toronto’s loss already posted to make an improbably playoff run.

The Bucks then came up empty on three straight jumpers while the Bulls missed a pair before Hinrich finally hit a 20 footer for a 65-63 lead with 6:33 remaining.

The Bulls still are limiting Noah’s minutes and he had to go out then to have another run left late in the game. But the jumpers kept coming up empty as Hinrich, Deng and Rose all missed as the Bulls settled for the least resistance.

Ilyasova got a run out for a slam dunk and Salmons drained a 20 footer over pretty good Hinrich defense for a 69-65 Bucks lead with 4:34 left.

Deng got a 15 footer to go, but then missed before Carlos Delfino dropped in a three for a 72-67 edge with 3:14 left. Miller then got that run out slam on a long, upcourt pass from Rose and it seemed possible.

But after a Hinrich miss, Thomas hit a jumper on a switch, Miller missed a three on a pop out and Salmons beat Deng on a nifty baseline reverse to basically put it out of reach at 76-70 with 1:08 left.

Rose responded with a 20 footer and Taj Gibson knocked in a 15 footer with 15 seconds left after Delfino missed a three. The Bulls had to foul and Salmons gave them a chance missing one of two. But Miller committed that travel, and the Bucks were walking on air back up I-94 while the Bulls were left wondering whether they have enough.

“We’re still one game behind. We’ve just got to keep playing,” said Deng. “They did a good job clogging the middle. We’re a jump shooting team. We just did not make them tonight. All day we were saying this was a winnable game. I thought we played hard enough to win it. At the end, they executed and we did not.”

And the Bulls have to hope this loss doesn’t become their playoff execution.

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