MILWAUKEE-- A few days ago, the Bulls’ biggest problem was they weren’t the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Twenty-four hours ago, the Bulls’ biggest problem was their lack of communication and subsequent slippage on defense, worrying about two straight losses turning to three.
After Tuesday, though, their biggest problem has become the health of Derrick Rose, who could only manage a few possessions into the second half of their 106-101 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, as he exited with left patella tendinitis.
Rose played 21 minutes and had a good start before missing a few layups in the second quarter, finishing with nine points and three assists, but appeared to get his left knee worked on by trainer Jeff Tanaka at the half.
“I felt something with my left knee, like jumper’s knee or something,” Rose said afterward. “Just didn’t feel right when I was out there. Just gotta be cautious with my body.”
Rose missed three games recently with a hamstring injury but emerged to continue some of his best basketball of the season in the games he did participate in, before Tuesday’s apparent setback. He admitted some frustration with the injury, although he said he doesn’t believe he’ll miss any time.
“Yeah, when you wanna continue to play and play consistent games,” Rose said. “The reality is, I felt something and all I can do is pay attention to it and listen to my body.”
At the start of the fourth quarter, Rose began riding a stationary bike on the sidelines near the Bulls’ bench and returned with 5:49 left but couldn’t move with any fluidity, removing himself with 3:25 left and the game tied at 93.
“It just felt weird out there,” Rose said. “It didn’t loosen up, tried to get out there a second time, still didn’t do anything. Really wasn’t any need for me to be in the game like that. Wasn’t able to move around like I wanted to.”
The Bulls seemed intent on ending their short losing streak to start things, but the inconsistency caught up with them, highlighted by Rose’s injury.
As the Bulls’ lead dwindled to start the third, Rose hobbled to the bench and tried walking off the injury on the sidelines as Fred Hoiberg called timeout to stop the bleeding.
The problems snowballed from there, as the Bucks’ speed took full advantage of the Bulls’ carelessness, forcing three turnovers in a 40-second span.
After falling behind by nine, the Bulls actually came back to take a five-point lead behind contributions from Nikola Mirotic and surprisingly, Tony Snell, who scored 17.
But they could only hold off the Bucks for so long, and it led to their demise.
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“I thought our energy out of the gate was great,” Hoiberg said. “Then coming out in the third, we let them back in it. They got a big lead on us and we fought back. We talk about the consistency, that’s what we gotta do.”
Greg Monroe gave the Bucks a one-point lead with a 3-point play and Khris Middleton followed it right up with a corner triple of his own, giving the Bucks a 99-95 lead. After a Jimmy Butler turnover, his fourth of the night and 17th for the Bulls, their offense seemed to continue trending downward as it had done from the first quarter on, noticeably with Rose on the bench.
“We turned the ball over, they got in the open floor and got a lot of easy baskets,” Butler said. “Trying to thread the needle (on passes), especially me. Trying to do too much instead of making the simple play.”
Butler missed the front end of three free throws with the Bulls trailing by four, and had a front row seat when Middleton, a swingman who’s been on fire recently, nailed a turnaround jumper with 16.7 seconds left to make it a two-possession game
It didn’t matter they outrebounded the Bucks by a sizeable margin (57-40), considering the Bucks only turned the ball over five times and their long-armed athletic wingman Giannis Antetokounmpo gave the Bulls fits all over the floor, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. The third year forward led the Bucks with 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes. Middelton scored 16 with nine assists and six rebounds while Monroe scored 15 with 11 rebounds.
Butler led the Bulls with 30, eight rebounds and six assists, but he left more than a few plays on the board when it counted most.
And now the Bulls are left wondering about their point guard’s immediate future.