Passive Bulls letting aggressive Bucks strike first and hardest


Passive Bulls letting aggressive Bucks strike first and hardest

Perhaps the flukish way the Bulls lost Game 4 wasn’t enough to motivate them to approaching Game 5 with the appropriate focus and downright fear the playoffs require.

Pau Gasol has said, very softly and quietly the past few days, that the Bucks’ aggressiveness put the Bulls on their heels very early in games, and it prevents the Bulls from being assertive.

The Bucks weren’t intimidated by the atmosphere or what was at stake if they lost, perhaps sensing the Bulls were waiting or a bit unsure of themselves. It was the Bulls’ worst nightmare, falling behind 9-0 and never regaining control.

“They have been more effective, more successful starting off games,” Gasol said. “They got off to a 9-0 lead early and we didn’t want that to happen. We spoke about it. We tried to do it differently. But they made shots, we didn’t.”

[MORE BULLS: Bulls still can't close out Bucks at home]

Gasol wasn’t just speaking out of turn because he finally had a game worthy of sitting on the podium; it’s been a common refrain through the series, as the Bucks’ length, energy and quickness leaves the Bulls being passive, waiting to see what they’ll try next before issuing a response.

“We didn’t play enough with that sense of urgency and desire that you need to do to close out a team when you have them in that position,” Gasol said. “We have to do better. Not think about losing then having Game 7 at home. It would be a terrible mistake.”

They’ve let the Bucks do more than hang around; they feel like they’re the better team, which we all know isn’t true. But they’re clearly taking the initiative and earning the Bulls’ respect with every blocked shot and contested dribble.

One can almost say they’ve taken a piece of the Bulls’ DNA and made it their own. They defend like madmen, hit the glass and play opportunistic basketball for 48 minutes.

[MORE BULLS: Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls]

“They’re a talented team and they do a lot of things right, defense is one of them,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said of the Bulls. “You look at their length, they know how to use it. They understand big game situations. For us, we’re going through the process of learning. You look at our length, we’re learning how to use that. We’re learning how to play the right way. There’s no better team to learn that from, to go against. They play hard for 48 minutes.”

Make no mistake, it isn’t cause for panic but certainly the Bucks should have their attention. The Bulls are still up 3-2, although if Khris Middleton’s wing jumper hits net at the end of regulation in Game 3 that number could be reversed.

“They’re doing what they’re doing,” said forward Mike Dunleavy, the only starter who went scoreless on either side in Game 5. “I wouldn’t say they’ve changed much. Everybody makes adjustments from game to game but if we continue to move the ball, we’ll get good shots. If we don’t get into our offense quick enough, it’ll be a struggle."

These past two games could merely be a series of unrelated events that caused this bump in the road—a bump that seems like a mountain compared to the mammoth series that seems ahead against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In Game 4, they turned the ball over so much, it was the third-highest mark in the past 25 years. Anomaly, right?

In Game 5, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose combined to shoot 10 for 41, a staggering statistic considering in a given night, usually one of them plays well enough to lift the tides of the rest of the roster.

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But nobody else was hitting shots either, thus creating a lack of confidence in ball movement, giving way to a painful fourth quarter where they tried plugging a round peg into a square hole—exactly what the Bucks want, slowing the game to a crawl and daring the Bulls to win by tough shots against a tough, aggressive defense.

“Yeah, there’s playing against some of our weaknesses,” Dunleavy said. “They’re taking advantage of things we don’t do too well.”

Add to that, Michael Carter-Williams broke out of his slump to get the better of Rose on the offensive end. Another rare occurrence, right? Perhaps, except one more rare occurrence will lead to a seventh game where a madhouse will turn into a mausoleum, potentially.

“I sure hope not,” said Dunleavy when asked if his team has lost confidence. “We have a lot of respect for them. They could’ve won Game 3. We’re fully aware of how good a team they are.”

Now they’re being tested after being pushed, unexpectedly. And they’ve created a monster, fully capable of pressing them further.

“It’s a chance for this team to grow, individually and collectively, and see what we’re made of,” Gasol said.

Indeed. See you Thursday.

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.


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.”


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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