One game can make all the difference in the world between a lesson you needed to learn and one that was totally unnecessary and damn near alarming.
As much as the Bulls needed to be pushed in Game 3 of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks, they needed to push back and put the Bucks to sleep so they could get some rest.
Instead, Derrick Rose fell asleep for a split second, and of course he’ll be blamed for that mistake as the Bulls got what they deserved in their Game 4 loss to the Bucks.
But there were plenty of fingerprints on this loss, from the players on down.
All those turnovers, the mistakes, the luck it took to get them back in a game they had no business being close in—it was seemingly poetic justice. Why? Because the Bucks seem to be learning on the job better than the Bulls, getting closer and closer every game.
You could almost make the case they've figured out the Bulls, and the ugly 28 turnovers are merely a manifestation of chickens coming home to roost. From being overwhelmed to competing to causing a scare to finally, breaking through by picking at an old Bulls' wound.
“We have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively,” said one of the Bulls’ invisible men, Pau Gasol. “That was the key tonight. 28 turnovers. 28 (fewer) shots that we gave away. In a two-point game, it’s a big difference, right? It’s unfortunate we didn’t close it out tonight.”
The Bucks are certainly taking calculated chances with personnel and scheme, and it paid dividends Saturday night. Jimmy Butler continues to get loose, but they've centered everything on stopping Gasol this series, believing the most consistent Bull is the one they can’t afford to give any leverage to.
Jason Kidd is mixing and matching with what he has, using smaller lineups to combat the Bulls’ size. And in a game where the Bulls shot 49 percent from the field and 56 from 3-point range and still lose, it tells you the Bucks are playing a game of chicken that paid off for one night.
“I feel bad more for my teammates than myself,” said Rose, who committed eight turnovers. “Learning experience for me, like I said. Yeah, just gotta learn from it. It’s a hard one. 27 (actually 28) turnovers, I feel like I had 20 of them. Felt like 20. Only thing I can do now is learn from it, watch film and come ready next game.”
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You wonder if this is just a blip on the screen or a sign the Bulls won’t have everything in their favor when they need it most. They won’t need it now, but they could have sent a message to the Cleveland Cavaliers of their intentions with a resounding, but tested, sweep.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yelled in a loud arena for a timeout before the Bulls’ final offensive possession but they couldn’t hear him, spreading the floor for Rose before he turned the ball over.
Then the Bucks heard their coach bark for a timeout, setting up the final possession. In a series between a veteran team and young one, that scenario should be reversed.
“We gotta be ready and bounce back Monday and make sure we set the tone, to be the aggressor,” Gasol said. “We gotta take that commanding position because we’re letting them be too proactive and dictate a lot of what’s happening.”
Gasol’s words—likely birthed from the frustration not being involved in the offense as the Bucks have gotten more and more physical with him as the series has progressed—shouldn’t ring hollow.
He’s a championship player who came here for that very reason and the Bulls can adjust to put this thing away Monday night. But the Bucks’ inability to fear should have been the perfect primer.
“They’re active, they scramble,” Gasol said. “They’re aggressive to the ball so they force you to move the ball and find the open guy on the weak side. That’s what we have to be willing to do, get the ball, move it and find the open guy. And crash the glass, we only have five offensive rebounds. We had the bigger lineup the whole game. We should try to be aggressive on the boards. It didn’t quite happen and they spread us out with shooters. Mayo and Dudley did with threes.”
Using perspective, it won’t cost the Bulls this series. The Bucks will be formidable down the road but aren’t going to pull off some improbable comeback, nor will the Bulls collapse at the seams—they’re too battle tested, with their foundation built on too solid of ground for something historic to happen.
And they’ll probably blow out the Bucks at home before the inevitable happens.
“I'm not thinking about Cleveland and Boston,” Thibodeau said. “I'm thinking about us and what we have to do to improve and correct and just think about the next game. We're going to have to do a lot better and get it done quickly.”
Because Cleveland is waiting.