In most cases, the confetti that fell from the ceiling after Jerryd Bayless beat Derrick Rose for a buzzer-beating layup might have been a tad excessive. But Saturday, after scraping away for three games, all losses, the Milwaukee Bucks finally got one. For a youthful team with nothing to lose, there was some symbolism in the result, a 92-90 Game 4 victory over the favored Chicago Bulls.
Vindication came with 1.3 seconds left, after Rose turned it over off the dribble on the other end. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau later said he’d tried, and failed, to call a timeout. No call came, as Rose barreled toward the middle of the floor and was stripped by Khris Middleton. With the game tied, Milwaukee narrowly squeezed in a timeout of its own that advanced the ball with 1.3 seconds left. Then Jared Dudley found Bayless, and the Bucks staved off elimination in front of a home crowd split roughly 50-50 with Bulls fans.
“It was honestly just trying to beat him backdoor,” Bayless said in a postgame press conference streamed on NBA.com. “Trying to act like I was going to get to the corner, hoping he was going to bite. He bit on it, [Dudley] made a spectacular pass, luckily I was able to finish it.”
On one hand, it was somewhat miraculous that Chicago even had a chance to win at that juncture of the game, after 28 turnovers (the same number the teams combined for in Game 3). The Bulls made a stop when it counted, after Taj Gibson contested Bayless at the rim on the previous play. The sequence before that, Rose ignited a 6-0 run with a pull-up three and a dish to Gasol in the lane for an and-1 that tied the game at 90. Altogether it was a poor showing from Chicago, which certainly didn’t deserve to win the series on a day like this, and will face added pressure to eliminate an increasingly confident team in Monday’s Game 5.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd’s decision making again stood out, particularly the choice to bench Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo (who each finished at plus-11) in favor of the experienced, better-shooting pair of Bayless and O.J. Mayo. Jared Dudley stretched the floor alongside the Bucks’ most athletic big man, John Henson, with Middleton, the lone starter, as their anchor. That group played the entire fourth and caused problems for Chicago’s bigger lineups.
“That group out there was going,” Kidd said in the press conference. “We were going to ride them as long as they could stand. I thought Juice and Bayless were great, they were penetrating on the offensive end, but we’re built defensively, and we thought they did a great job on that end.”
Milwaukee bothered Chicago with its aggression on both ends and a flailing sea-of-limbs in the defensive paint. For the first time in the series the Bucks put together a full 48 minutes, forcing mistakes, and draining big shots. Mayo scored 18 points, including a three-pointer from the top of the key that made it 90-84 with 1:42 to go. Milwaukee's 39.1% clip from the field was less than ideal, but the scoring was again balanced (eight of nine players finished with eight or more points). Compensation for its shooting woes came through 39 points off turnovers.
All series, the game flow was similar—tight first quarter, second-quarter Milwaukee run, quick answer from Chicago, close score at halftime. Game 4’s wrinkle came in the form of 23-point first-half explosion from Jimmy Butler that included a leaning, banked-in pull-up three from the left wing to knot the score at 50 entering the break. The Bulls shot a solid 48.5%, but fell cold in the fourth quarter, when Rose seemed to be the only one able to dictate any pace. His two mistakes in the final sequence were regrettable, but not deal-breakers for Chicago. Rose’s eight turnovers, on the other hand, need to be reined in.
“I’m not going to put it on that last play,” Thibodeau said in his press conference. "There were a lot of others throughout the course of the game. We didn't play well. When you turn the ball over like that, you’re not going to have success. We made the run at the end, had a chance, botched that last play, but we botched a lot before that. We’re going to have to straighten that out.”
[daily_cut.NBA]There are some red flags for the Bulls as they enter Monday’s game, hoping to eliminate their opponents and catch up on the rest they squandered away with a flat effort in a potential series-ending game. Joakim Noah struggled mightily and hasn’t been himself all series, shooting just 36.8% in the first three games and scoring four points while logging a minus-23 in Game 4. The younger, springier Henson has been a matchup problem for all of Chicago’s bigs, but some type of turnaround from Noah who, in his defense, has been banged up all season, would go a long way in patching up the holes.
Chicago’s bench has also been unhelpful across the series, with Mirotic not at his best (2-of-7 shooting, five points) after missing Game 3 with a quad injury. Aaron Brooks has lacked his usual spark since Game 1, struggling against Milwaukee’s bigger guards and playing fewer minutes in favor of Rose, who’s looked dangerous at his peaks and has lost his minutes restriction.
The rational observer can continue to treat this like a tune-up series for the Bulls, and it may well be that in the end. Chicago will be better off down the line after a difficult test like this. If and when they close this out, the Bucks will have kept the veteran Bulls spry and on their toes. There hasn't been any coasting in this series on either side. The loss was an opportunity for Rose to make playoff mistakes and adjust as he enters his 10th game back from meniscus surgery on Monday. The continued emergence and sky-high confidence of Butler should be a warning shot to Cleveland.
Still, Milwaukee will continue to push. The series will stay scrappy, and Chicago will remain on notice. Jabari Parker, who continued to observe from the bench in a suit and who celebrated the win with an exuberant dive onto the floor, will be in uniform next season. No matter the series outcome, the resilience and execution needed to win should linger with a promising Milwaukee core. There’s a lot left to gain for the Bucks, and they've earned themselves, at minimum, another game to cut their teeth.