What’s ugly and stagnant, slow as Chicago traffic in the middle of the day and painful to watch?
That’s right, the Bulls offense.
The Milwaukee Bucks have taken them out of anything they've wanted to do, anything they came into this series doing well has been taken away ever so slowly and the Bulls have one more day to adjust before Game 6 Thursday in Milwaukee.
While the Bulls certainly don’t run the most free-flowing offensive sets, they have the personnel to solve the Bucks’ defensive puzzle. It’s just taking longer and longer to figure out, as Game 5 presented another hole in the Bulls’ armor, as their inconsistent shooting reappeared after four good games in the series.
For all the talk about the Bulls being at full strength being the ultimate elixir, it hasn't proven to be true, especially considering Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic appear to have been taken out of the series by matchups.
“Aaron I thought played very well yesterday,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He got caught because (Jerryd) Bayless played less. It was more matchup with him. Niko took the hit in that game. He's still working his way back so hopefully a few days here, he'll be ready to roll.”
And this team doesn’t appear to have much in the way of consistent energy or rhythm, which is why confusion carries the day for this team in this series and possibly beyond.
“Two things you want this time of year. You want your health and to be playing well,” Thibodeau said. “If you have health and you're not playing well that does you no good. if you're playing well and you don't have health that's gonna hurt you also. So you want both.”
They hit four of 22 triples, unable to get in a shooting rhythm from the jump as Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell, players who benefit from ball movement, were unable to hit shots early and couldn’t get them late.
“Some were good. Some they challenged well,” Thibodeau said. “They were flying at us and we’re going to have to adjust. The big thing is moving the ball, not holding on to it. If they’re flying at you, go by.”
The analytics-based theory in today’s game is the 3-point shot is the best one, followed by taking the ball to the basket. The problem is that plays right into the Bucks’ hands if you’re not hitting jumpers from the outside—and the Bulls aren’t taking nearly enough in-between shots, those dreaded midrange attempts that the analytics community decries as the worst shots known to man.
And the Bulls lost trust in the extra pass, so the fourth quarter was a potpourri of driving head on into a Bucks defense that was ready for it. They missed more than their share of shots on the interior, including back-to-back missed layups from Joakim Noah after the Bulls pulled to within three.
“Not only that (lack of trust), layups,” Thibodeau said. “When you’re not making the 3s and you’re not making layups, the ball has to move. It’s going to move better when you’re making shots. When they collapse on the penetration, we have to hit the open man.”
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Since no one was making shots, it left Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler feeling like they were on islands, leading to a fourth quarter where the Bucks amazingly had more blocked shots (eight) than the Bulls had field goals (seven).
“They’re very athletic. They’re quick,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t hold on to it. You just have to make the right read. If it’s a long closeout and they’re flying at you, go by. If they’re closing short, shoot. Just know when to shoot and when to pass. We want penetration. Those are things we want to do.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo was a menace with three blocked shots and every Bucks player aside from Michael Carter-Williams had a blocked shot in the fourth, not only frustrating the Bulls but confusing them.
“They have good size,” Thibodeau said. “If they’re coming to block, move on penetration, hit the open man. You’re getting by one, that means another one is picking you up. When that guy comes, you have to hit the open man.”