Jason Kidd made it clear Saturday that the Milwaukee Bucks weren't simply happy to be here.
A 67-loss team from a year ago, touting four leading scorers all under the age of 23 with zero playoff experience could have relished the fact that they finished .500, qualified for the playoffs and could build for what looks to be a promising future by gaining valuable experience with a first-round matchup against a Chicago Bulls team with championship aspirations.
But just showing up wasn't going to be enough for Kidd, who won a title as a player with the Mavericks in 2010 and appeared in 158 career playoff games.
"We’re looking at getting better each time we take the floor, no matter what’s at stake game-wise," he said. "So there’s a lot to lose if we don’t come out and play hard."
Added 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams, who three months earlier was running the point for the tanking Philadelphia Sixers: "We’re definitely going out there to compete. We want to win."
And though the first taste of playoff experience for four of the nine players who took the United Center floor resulted in a 103-91 loss in Game 1, the Bucks indeed showed flashes that they'll be more than just a tune-up for the Bulls and their potential second-round matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yet while the young Bucks brought the right attitude into Saturday night's affair, executing against one of the league's premier head coaches and veteran-laced groups was a different story.
After not allowing neither a single 30-point quarter or 95 total points in four matchups against the Bulls in the regular season, the usually resilient Bucks defense was porous, a step behind their opponent and and unwilling to get physical without fouling with a Bulls team that won the rebounding battle by 11 and and scored 42 points in the paint.
It was far different from what the Bucks had been under Kidd. Specifically since trading for the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams at the trade deadline, the Bucks' 99.4 defensive rating ranked second in the NBA, helping mask an offense that in the first half of the season had been led by Brandon Knight, who was sent to Pheonix as part of the three-team deal. The offense under Carter-Williams had ranked 26th in the league in efficiency to end the season, with Jabari Parker's absence due to a torn ACL in January doing them no favors on that end of the floor.
It's why on paper the Bucks' first quarter numbers - 59 percent shooting and 29 points - didn't tell the whole story. Having led the majority of the opening stanza may have felt like a win, but Kidd understood getting into a shootout with the league's 10th most efficient offense was a recipe for disaster.
"That first quarter was fool's gold," Kidd said. "We're not an offensive team. We rely on our defense, and we fell in a trap of scoring the ball in that first quarter and thought we were going to outscore Chicago with our offense and not play defense."
Matters only worsened in the second quarter when the Bulls matched their 30-point total from the opening period. The charge was led by Derrick Rose, who had his way against Carter-Williams, finishing with 23 points and seven assists in his first playoff appearance in three years. Jimmy Butler added 25 more on the wing as the Bulls sliced up Milwaukee's plan to double-team Pau Gasol, who had torched them for 46 points earlier in the regular season.
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Gasol finished with just 10 points on 5-for-17 shooting, but he added four assists and a handful of other passes that initiated offense, rotated Milwaukee's defense and led to open shots; the Bulls assisted on 30 of their 38 shots, with all five starters recording at least four helpers. The Bucks were 10-29 in the regular season when allowing 100 or more points, a number the Bulls reached with more than three minutes to play. They forced turnovers - the Bulls committed 19 giveaways which turned into 25 Bucks points - but weren't able to get stops when they needed.
"I think the (Bulls') score was high. If you want to win games, you have to keep the score low," said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points and four assists in his first postseason action.
That became a problem as the Bucks' offense regressed, as Kidd expected it would. In the first quarter the Bucks shot 59 percent, scored 12 points in the paint and added nine on the fast break; in the final three quarters they shot 33 percent, scored 24 points in the paint and only six on the fast break. Khris Middleton, who scored a team-high 18 points in his postseason debut, said his team needed better focus on the offensive end finishing possessions and not settling for outside jumpers.
"I thought we could have played better, a little harder. We could have had better possessions and shot selection," he said. "But I thought for the most part we did a decent job."
It was a decent start for a Bucks team that hung around - trailing by one with three minutes left in the first half - longer than many expected them to. But that's the mentality they're hoping to break this postseason, that being within a possession midway through the game should be looked at as a success. They'll need to re-focus offensively and find better looks with the ball in their hands on Monday in Game 2, but they took a step in the right direction Saturday by arriving with a mentality of more than just being happy to be playing past the regular season.
"Obviously (the Bulls) are a good team, but it’s not like we think we’re going to lose," said Zaza Pachulia. "I think we go into every game (thinking) that we have a chance to win. These are mistakes we can definitely can correct."