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Bucks stun flat Bulls, send series back to Milwaukee

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Bucks stun flat Bulls, send series back to Milwaukee

Joakim Noah walked up the sideline, yelling to himself as he headed to the bench, unable to figure out why the Milwaukee Bucks were methodically pulling away in a game that on paper should’ve been an easy win for the Bulls.

But as the Bucks have gained more and more confidence throughout this series, Game 5’s 94-88 decision was only shocking if you took into account things that wouldn’t faze either side.

The Bulls returning home to the United Center, a place the Bucks don’t feel intimidated by. Or the news about the Cleveland Cavaliers losing Kevin Love and J.R. Smith for the conference semifinals.

What mattered is the Bucks’ fearlessness and length and growing confidence, illustrated by the Bulls’ panic—or weary legs, according to their counterparts-- in the fourth quarter compared to the Bucks’ coolness.

Again jumping out to a 9-0 lead on the Bulls, stunning a crowd that was ready to look ahead and celebrate, forcing the Bulls to play from behind essentially all night, squashing a Bulls’ confident gameplan that didn’t revolve around “turn the ball over 28 times”.

[MORE BULLS: Kevin Love out for second round, Smith to miss two games]

They cut that in half with just 13. But unfortunately, the open shots they hit in Game 4 were nowhere to be found in Game 5, as they shot 34 percent from the field, punctuated by their horrid 7-for-30 performance in the fourth quarter, when they were desperately trying to string possessions together.

“We didn’t make shots,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was turnovers last game; We got the turnovers down. But then we couldn’t make our threes. It’s a make of miss league. When you don’t make it, it’s not going to look good.”

It was an ugly performance from there, as they shot four of 22 from 3-point range, as the Bucks were content with Derrick Rose launch seven of them without success, part of a five for 20 evening.

Rose was met with a wall of Bucks’ defenders all evening, as he didn’t commit the fatal error at the buzzer—he just made a bevy of them all night (six turnovers) and struggled with his shot.

His partner in “MVP” chants, Jimmy Butler, didn’t fare much better, shooting five for 21, compiling a nice stat line of 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but he knew that was misleading.

[WATCH: Bulls know they need to learn from their mistakes]

"I’m supposed to be the primetime defensive guy and I haven’t guarded a soul,” Butler said. “I’m worried about offense too much."

Pau Gasol had his first primetime game of the series, with 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists but didn’t have much help. Bench scorers Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic didn’t impact the game, negated by the Bucks’ length and size the Bulls haven’t been able to reasonably counter.

Khris Middleton again quietly had a forceful night, scoring 21 on 16 shots, one of the few Bucks who shot well as they mustered only 18 points in the fourth, shooting 39 percent but remarkably kept the Bulls at bay. The Bulls planned to leave Zaza Pachulia open and he made them pay, hitting a couple circus midrange shots that quelled Bulls’ runs, and OJ Mayo incited the wrath of the Bulls’ crowd and the players, getting into a couple scrums that could’ve redirected the Bulls’ focus.

After Butler and Noah scored inside with 8:32 left to cut the Bucks’ lead to three, they were expected to fold.

But they regrouped, quickly pushed the lead back to 86-77 a minute later after Noah missed two point-blank layups and survived another Bull run a few minutes later, turning them back with their relentless defense led by Giannis Antetokoumnpo and John Henson’s shot blocking until the Bulls had nothing left.

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“Just growing. Growing up,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “Going through these games in the regular season (was) a dress rehearsal.”

And now they’re no longer naïve or fearful, able to absorb the emotion the Bulls inconsistently dished out while staying consistent.

Michael Carter-Williams looked Rose right in the face, repeatedly taking any and everybody to the basket for his 22 points, to go along with his nine assists, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Not even an ankle sprain that left him questionable in the third quarter was going to stop him, as he returned, completing a night where all 10 of his field goals were in the Bulls’ paint.

 “He hit a lot of tough shots,” Rose said. “Shots that he hit, I tried not to foul, I put my arms up and he kept banking them. It’s the first game he hit that many shots. Tough shots but he made them, so I’ll make an adjustment next time.”

They knew they were going home no matter what after Game 5, they just made the decision to take the Bulls back to Milwaukee with them for what should be a raucous Game 6 Wednesday night.

7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

The WNBA announced Monday that seven of 137 (5.1%) tested players were positive for COVID-19, and that 11 of the league's 12 teams will report to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for its season start-up by the end of the day.

The one exception in that travel schedule is the Indiana Fever. After sustaining two positive tests in their organization, the Fever's travel will be delayed at least five days "in an abundance of caution due to the CDC’s close contact self-quarantine requirements," according to a statement from the league.

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"Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician," the statement said.

That 5.1% positive rate checks in under the NHL (5.8%) and NBA's (7.1%) most recent rounds of testing, and above MLB's (1.2%).

The WNBA's season is expected to tip off at some point in late July in a bubble environment at IMG Academy.

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NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

When the NBA went dark on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulls got busy.

A front office overhaul that was first reported as a possibility during All-Star weekend in Chicago kicked into overdrive during the league’s hiatus with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager, the firing of Gar Forman and the re-assigning of John Paxson to an advisory role. 

It’s the dawn of a new era in Chicago. Energy is palpable throughout the fanbase. Bulls players have expressed enthusiasm for the direction of the franchise, as well.

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And around the league, competitors have taken note. Take it from NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, who stopped by the Bulls Talk Podcast recently to discuss the league’s impending restart, and the state of the Bulls.

“I think it’s a brighter future,” Haberstroh said on the team’s front office changes. “I don’t think any NBA team is happy about what [the Bulls] did, because it means that their lives are going to be a lot harder to win a championship. 

“The Bulls have been in a rough spot over the last several years, just trying to rebuild after the Tom Thibodeau era, and never really quite having an identity. And I think with the change, the identity change with Arturas Karnisovas, he’s shown that he is a people person, he’s a gym rat. He hired Marc Eversley who has a really strong reputation around the league.”

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Indeed, the rebuild catalyzed by the Jimmy Butler trade (which yielded Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn) has yet to fully bloom. The Bulls are just 71-151 since the trade, and poised for a fourth consecutive top-10 draft selection after going just 22-43 in an abbreviated 2019-20 season and being left out of the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, Fla. — a season which began with self-imposed playoff expectations.

That has led to widespread speculation on the future of head coach Jim Boylen. Boylen owns a 39-84 record since taking over for Fred Hoiberg 24 games into the 2018-19 season. He signed a two-year extension in May 2019, and assembled his own staff — headlined by Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers — last offseason.

Haberstroh added that those aforementioned competitors are monitoring the Bulls’ coaching situation closely. For now, as NBC Sports Chicago has reported, Karnisovas is empowering Boylen as coach of the team and withholding final judgements until he is able to observe him in the Bulls’ building and establish a relationship with him. Boylen recently participated in a Juneteenth march alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls’ staff, and has been active checking in on players, both individually and on team Zoom calls.

“I think the big question that people around the league are wondering is ‘What is going to happen for Jim Boylen?’” Haberstroh continued. “And I think the head coaching position is going to be a canary in the coal mine for how this is going to be run going forward. 

“If Arturas or Marc believe that they need a new voice running the team and they are met with some reservations from either ownership or from elsewhere, do they have the autonomy to make that decision? Or is it going to be a situation where, ‘Hey, we don’t want to pay another head coach, we already have this deal with Jim Boylen, we don’t want to have to pay another coach to be in here.’ I think that’s going to be an indicator of how things are going to be running going forward. So it will be interesting to see. People around the league are very, very impressed (with the hires) that they’ve made. But I do think they want to see how much autonomy, in reality. They can say all they want now in press conferences, but we’ll see when push comes to shove whether they’re going to have full autonomy making decisions about not just the head coach but just everything in the organization.”

“All indications are that they’re going to have that full autonomy. But I think from around the league that is the big question mark, and they’re watching the head coaching position.”

Listen to the full conversation with Haberstroh here or via the embedded player above.

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