Bucks get physical in an attempt to swing series with Bulls


Bucks get physical in an attempt to swing series with Bulls

Though they wouldn't admit wanting to send a message, the Milwaukee Bucks proved in Game 2 they won't be backing down from the Bulls.

Lacking for physicality in a Game 1 loss, Jason Kidd's youthful group showed off some veteran-like playoff chippyness on more than one occasion, earning four technical fouls in an attempt to shift the pace of the series back to what made them successful in the regular season. It didn't result in a win, as the Bulls topped Milwaukee with a 91-82 victory to take a 2-0 lead, but if anything the Bucks provided themselves a blueprint on how to keep themselves in the series and that playing their own brand of basketball can be successful.

"That's the way they play so it's the way we have to play," Khris Middleton said of the physicality. "We have to play intense and put up a fight."

The first sign of increased intensity came early in the second quarter, when Aaron Brooks attempted to draw a charge in the open court on John Henson. Henson collided with Brooks, who was called for a blocking foul, and stood over the Bulls reserve guard. Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah quickly came to Brooks' defense, and before the two teams eventually were separated Butler and O.J. Mayo had gone face-to-face jawing at each other. Henson, Mayo, Butler and Noah all were assessed technical fouls.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In the second half Mayo collided with Butler while running down the floor, earning a personal foul in the process. That set the stage for Zaza Pachulia, who with 4 minutes remaining elbowed Nikola Mirotic in the head, earning a technical foul after the Bucks had closed within five points. Two possessions later both players went to the ground after a loose ball, and after Pachulia grabbed possession and passed from the ground he was shoved in the back by Mirotic. The two players had to be separated before both earning technicals, with Pachulia's second resulting in an ejection.

"It's playoff basketball," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "You have the same teams going at it. A lot of it is will, determination, how bad do you want it? It's sort of the nature of the business."

In two game the Bucks have attempted to shake the notion that they're just a young team that will be satisfied with the future payoff of gaining playoff experience now. The added physicality that boiled over into scrums stemmed from an attempt to play more of their style: an ugly, offensive struggle. The Bucks aren't going to win the series on talent alone, squaring off against a Bulls team with a former MVP, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and a pair of 2015 All-Stars. It'll take these kinds of games for them to hang with a more talented group, and they know it.

"It was more for us than sending a message. (The Bulls) can take it however they want to, but for us what was missing in Game 1 was intensity and playing hard, especially on the defensive end," said Pachulia. "If you say it was a message that means we were successful."

[MORE: Big fourth quarter from Butler lifts Bulls to 2-0 series lead over Bucks]

They were successful in certain areas. The Bulls committed 15 turnovers, scored 11 points in the first quarter and Game 1 hero Derrick Rose went just 4-for-14 from the field. Milwaukee's continued double-teaming of Pau Gasol and pressuring Derrick Rose on high pick-and-rolls worked once again. In all the Bulls shot 38 percent from the field, and the Bucks were within striking distance before going ice-cold in the final 10 minutes.

"I thought we played a pretty good game, on the road giving ourselves an opportunity to win," Kidd said.

Still, they need more production to complement it. Shooting 35 percent from the field and handing out 13 assists on 32 made field goals is a recipe for failure, regardless of opponent or pace. Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled once again, going 2-for-11 from the field, while the Bucks as a team went silent from beyond the arc, going 4-for-17. After Kidd noted in pregame availaibility that his team needed to be better on the glass, the Bulls grabbed a franchise playoff record 64 rebounds.

In Game 1 the Bucks proved they weren't going to be satisfied with just showing up. Monday night they proved they could be the more physical team and wouldn't back down. But proving capable of winning isn't the same as actually doing it, setting the stage for a Game 3 on Thursday in Milwaukee with a chance to earn a victory. They'll need to play better from an X's and O's standpoint, but they're pleased with where they are mentally after proving their toughness in a gritty road loss.

"Playoff basketball, what do you expect? It’s going to be intense, it’s going to be physical," Mayo said. "We’ve got the team playing hard."

3 things about Bulls' new executive Arturas Karnisovas that stand out

3 things about Bulls' new executive Arturas Karnisovas that stand out

The Bulls are on the cusp of officially naming just their third head of basketball operations since Jerry Reinsdorf and a group of investors purchased the team in 1985.

So, who is Arturas Karnisovas? That's a question at the front of many Bulls fans' minds as they picture a brighter future for an organization currently mired in a meandering rebuild.

NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson has spent time getting to the bottom of that very question.

From Johnson, when asked his impressions of Karnisovas on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast:

What I would say is three things have stood out in, really, every conversation I've had about him. These three themes have jumped out.

He's a very inclusive person. He seeks collaboration and input from a wide variety of people. He grew up in the Houston Rockets franchise, Daryl Morey is big on that concept as is Tim Connelly in Denver, so he's kind of known that with his other front office structures. Which is why I'm excited to see who he brings with him, because I think there's potential to really modernize this Bulls front office, which frankly has lagged behind today's modern NBA for some time now.

And the other two things that jump out consistently with literally every conversation I've had about him are his international relationships and connections. I mean he knows basically everybody, seemingly, in the basketball world. He could walk into any gym in any country and feel comfortable. And that extends beyond the Lithuanian aspect, I mean, he ran Basketball Without Borders for the NBA, so he could go into a gym in Africa and, you know, get a shoutout from somebody. He just seems like he's somebody who's very comfortable in his own skin.

And then, the last thing that I think is important about him is his organizational detail. Tim Connelly is very known around the NBA for being a really frenetic presence, a really energetic and kind of — I don't want to say chaotic, because that sounds negative and it's not — I mean, he's just a very fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, bounce things off the wall kind of thing. And it's been successful, I'm not being critical, he's an incredible executive. My point is Arturas was kind of the stoic, behind the scenes organizer and Tim Connelly has said this on the record, so, I mean, I think the fact that you have somebody who's detail-oriented and an organizer, especially if he surrounds himself with the right people, could bode well for the Bulls moving forward.

Indeed, Karnisovas is one of the most well-respected veteran executives in the league. After playing collegiately at Seton Hall, enjoying a decorated professional career overseas and making two Olympics appearances, he worked for the NBA league office on international projects and as an international scout for the Rockets before moving to the Nuggets. The Nuggets promoted Karnisovas to general manager in 2017 after he had interviews for the Bucks and Nets' general manager positions. 

Now, the keys to the Bulls are his, with impending decisions on subsequent hires in the front office and coaching staff looming. By all accounts, his aptitude and reputation should inspire optimism. 

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5 key moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

5 key moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

The Bulls have their man. After two successful virtual interviews, the Bulls are in advanced negotiations to make Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas the team's new head of basketball operations.

Karnisovas comes to Chicago with a sterling reputation as a talent evaluator, communicator and basketball thinker. His track record as an international scout with the Houston Rockets and as both an assistant GM and GM in Denver reflects that.

Let's examine some of the most notable moves the Nuggets made during Karnisovas' tenure with the team:

5 keys moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

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