O.J. Mayo heard the chants loud and clear. But don't expect him to change his attitude.
The de-facto enforcer for the youthful Bucks has found himself engaged in a war of words with Jimmy Butler during their first round playoff series with the Bulls, and the back-and-forth added another chapter Monday night in Milwaukee's Game 5 victory.
Twice Mayo and Butler found themselves face-to-face, jawing back and forth during dead-ball situations before being sent back to their metaphorical corners by their teammates. On the second occasion the heated conversations resulted in double technicals on the respective shooting guards, with the United Center faithful responding with chants of, "O-J-sucks!"
But for the defensive-minded Bucks, who have suddenly found themselves back in the playoff series - down 3-2 heading back to Milwaukee with momentum for Game 6 on Thursday - it's exactly what Mayo wants. Looking for any kind of spark against the favorites, the Bucks have bodied up the superior Bulls and found an edge, gaining camaraderie and confidence in the process.
"At the end of the day, when you have 22,000 people chanting, ‘You suck,’ I know my guys got my back," Mayo said. "So if I happen to suck tonight my guys hopefully are going to step up and play well."
Mayo didn't shoot well, going 2-for-8 in the win, but he did add 10 points and four assists in 26 minutes while playing stifling defense on Butler, who needed 21 shots to score 20 points. But more important than any numbers he's produced in the box score, Mayo has grasped the reins and relished his role as the muscle on a Bucks team full of young contributors making their playoff debuts.
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True, Mayo is just 27 years old and has 25 playoff games to his resume, but on a team whose three leading scorers are 23 and younger he's the seasoned veteran who can get away with scuffling and not only maintain his level of play, but motivate the players around him. The same can be said for veteran Zaza Pachulia, who has drawn the ire of the Bulls for his actions in Game 2, when he drew two technical fouls and was ejected for his tiff with Nikola Mirotic.
The Bucks have no intention of getting in a shootout with a Bulls team that averaged nearly 101 points per game in the regular season; the Bucks ranked second-to-last in offensive efficiency and are 10-30 this season when opponents score 100 or more points. That means dirtying up the game, slowing things down and, if need be, going face-to-face with the Bulls stars. Reserve forward Jared Dudley, an eight-year veteran, admitted as much, specifically mentioning Butler's demeanor on the court as needing retribution of some kind.
"That’s the way we have to play. We’re not as talented. We have to muck the game up, be physical at times," he said. "Jimmy Butler’s celebrating after every time, but it’s fine. It’s part of the game, so O.J. will step into that, start celebrating and getting into him, letting him know that he’s going to be here for the whole game."
Whether or not Mayo actually has gotten in Butler's head - Butler has broken out in the series, averaging 26.6 points per game - it's a tactic Mayo plans on continuing, picking and choosing his spots to get in tussles and when to buckle down; he did that in Game 5, limiting Butler to 1-for-7 shooting in the final quarter.
"Playoffs are pretty much always physical. At the end of the day it’s a win or go home type of situation, so it’s going to put you on the edge as far as intensity-wise," Mayo said. "Just got to try to do the best job of staying poised at the right time and focused on what’s right for the team."