MILWAUKEE — Onto Cleveland.
The series the NBA world has been curious to see is now upon us, after the Chicago Bulls finally decided to get desperate and do away with the Milwaukee Bucks with a runaway 120-66 Game 6 shellacking at the Bradley Center, the largest playoff win in franchise history.
Whether it was by four or 40, the Bulls needed to put the pesky Bucks away on the road as opposed to sitting on their hands and waiting for a seventh game in Chicago — and by the 48-minute display, one is left to wonder how this series was taken to a sixth game as opposed to it being ended a few nights prior.
Just like it was evident from the dawn of Game 5 the Bulls weren’t ready for what the Milwaukee Bucks were bringing, the reverse was definitely the case Thursday as the Bulls stopped playing tight and tightened up on the Bucks, jumping out to an 8-0 lead before methodically and systematically breaking the Bucks down piece by piece en route to a 34-point halftime lead that actually extended to 88-44 late in the third quarter.
After the offensive disaster that took place in Game 5, where the Bulls couldn’t hit much of anything, they needed a sterling offensive performance, a confidence booster of sorts.
Shooting 51 percent and 50 from three with 15 triples while holding the Bucks to 32 percent is the type of game film Tom Thibodeau won’t mind showing in preparing for the second round.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
“It looks a lot better when the ball goes in the rim,” Thibodeau said. “A lot of times you don't have control over when the ball goes on or doesn't go in. If they're the right shots, you want them to shoot them.”
And when Mike Dunleavy comes out scoring 19 in the first half, you know it’s more than just a good night for him; it’s a night birthed from supreme ball movement, the recipient of open 3-point looks as the Bulls looked anything like the panicked outfit that took the floor three nights ago.
With the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers set to begin Monday, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler needed to play well, together. Rose missed his first five shots but it wasn’t an indication of how well he ran the Bulls offense, as he assisted on the first three Bulls field goals and five of the first seven, most to Dunleavy.
“Mike is playing great, knocking down shots. Mike is playing great,” Rose said. “Being a veteran, coming back to the bench. Talking. Just being Mike. And that's what we need, somebody that's a little bit older and experienced talking to young guys like Tony. And to the guys that's coming in, making sure they're ready and prepared.”
By the time he hit his first field goal, a runner which started a streak of seven straight points in the second quarter, the Bulls were already off and running, leading by 20 two minutes into the period.
In 24 minutes of effective work, Rose finished with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds on six of 14 shooting. Butler, the man who opened his mouth about setting the tone and believing his teammates would follow with his defense, registered four steals and five rebounds to go along with his 16 points in 31 minutes.
That defensive mentality permeated to his teammates, as the Bulls prevented the Bucks from hitting the offensive glass, and forced nine turnovers to match their nine field goals by the time the score rose to 47-20 in the second.
All series long, the Bucks played with poise and composure, but as the game and series began to slip away, youth was served in a not-so good way. As Dunleavy spotted up for a transition triple, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo charged into him leading with his forearm and nailed him, perhaps payback for Dunleavy apparently hitting him in the face on a previous possession.
Dunleavy could be in danger for league review once they look at his shot to the neck of Michael Carter-Williams early in the first, which caused him to go to the locker room before he returned to exact some revenge with a low blow.
“I don't wanna comment on it. It's a physical game, there's a lot going on,” Thibodeau said.
Antetokounmpo was ejected for his foul while Carter-Williams was given a flagrant one foul for his action.
All series long the Bulls reacted to the Bucks’ aggressiveness, and it took six games to fight back—six games of learning they can’t afford against the Cavaliers.