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.

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on Good Morning America on Monday, discussing the legacy of Kobe Bryant, who passed away on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. Pippen knows quite a bit about Bryant, having been at the tail end of his prime years right when a fresh-faced 17-year old Bryant was drafted into the league. As Pippen discussed in the GMA interview, his NBA career—which lasted until the 2003-04 season—spanned the majority of Bryant's rise to prominence. By the time "Pip" retired in 2004, Kobe was a six-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion. 

Pippen fondly remembered Bryant's drive, saying that his "competitive fire was unmatched." He went on to of course discuss the profound impact that Michael Jordan had on Bryant's career, essentially providing him a roadmap for the type of NBA legacy he wanted to leave:

I look back at Kobe and I watch his growth and development. He was one of those players that idolized Michael Jordan but he mimicked Michael Jordan in a lot of ways, and it was a guy that y'know, I watched him watch films on one of the greatest players that ever play[ed] the game [Michael Jordan] and he emulated his game to a T and to some degree overcame all of his weaknesses and became to me, one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Pippen is also a part of one of the greatest moments of Bryant's illustrious career.

When the Kobe-Shaquille O'Neal Lakers were in pursuit of their first NBA title with head coach Phil Jackson in the 1999-2000 season they ran into an extremely tough and formidable Portland Trailblazers team in the Western Conference Finals, led by the veteran trio of Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Steve Smith. The series ending up going seven games and that high-pressure Game 7 is when Kobe showed a national audience what the rest of his NBA career was going to look like.

Bryant and O'Neal led the Lakers back from a 15-point deficit, capped off by an amazing alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq that will be replayed on NBA highlight reels for ages, and led to the first title for the Lakers' dynasty of the 2000s.

By the time he retired, Kobe Bryant racked up 18 All-Star game appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances, and five NBA championships, solidifying his place as one of the all-time greats, a thought Pippen said was shared by his NBA peers:

"I've heard a few players even say it, Kobe Bryant had no weaknesses in his basketball game. He worked hard at everything and he became great at every part of his game."

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

The tears streaming down Jim Boylen’s face said all you needed to know about the Bulls’ reaction to the stunning death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other victims in a Sunday helicopter crash that has rocked the NBA community.

Like Bryant, Boylen has daughters who love basketball. Like Bryant, Boylen is uber competitive and serious about his job.

But he’s a father and a human being first.

“Obviously, a very emotional, tearful day in our building. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kobe Bryant’s family, the other families that are involved in the accident,” Boylen said. “These things hit your team and the league on different levels. There’s the rookie out of high school breaking into the starting lineup, one of the hardest workers ever and becoming an All-Star and a champion and a Hall of Fame player. And then there’s the second half of your life where you earn respect from the basketball community and you’re a husband and a father and a mentor for the rest of the league. Difficult day.

“And if you have children like many of us do, it’s painful.”

The Bulls discussed the tragedy after a Monday morning shootaround to prepare for a game against the Spurs that everyone acknowledged would be difficult to play. The United Center has projected images of Bryant, smiling in his Lakers uniform, since Sunday night and fans have started a makeshift shrine outside the building.

The Bulls will have a moment of silence to honor Bryant, and Thad Young, who will wear Bryant’s “Zoom Kobe 4 ‘Prelude’” shoe, said it’s likely they’ll take a 24-second violation to honor one of the numbers Bryant wore.

“Kobe has always inspired me — and not just me but other guys around this league, from young to older guys,” Young said. “He's always been very inspiring to each and every one of us just because of what be brought to the game and his life outside of the game. He was pretty much an open book. You know, he let us see how he treated his wife and kids. He let us see the behind the scenes of how he lived his life.

“We thank him for that. He showed us how to continue to walk this Earth and be upstanding citizens and he showed us how to be not just a person to walk this earth but to be a loving husband, father and family member.”

LaVine, who wears No. 8 in part to honor Bryant, acknowledged the difficulty of playing Monday night but said it’s the best way to honor the future Hall of Famer’s legacy.

“It’s going to be really sad, but I think it’s something that he would have wanted — for people to get back into the game and play,” LaVine said. “I feel like that’s how he would approach it. So I’m going to go out there and play the way I do, play my heart out. Obviously, everybody is going to have a heavy heart. But we still have a job to do. It’s terrible you have to play under those circumstances, but I feel like it’s something he would want as well.’’

LaVine grew up idolizing Bryant.

“He inspired a whole generation of kids pretty much. They wanted to be like him. It’s like kids in the 80s and 90s wanted to be like Mike. We wanted to be like Kobe,” LaVine said. “Growing up and seeing the different highlights of his hard work, I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that was instilled in me was his hard work. I try to bring that to my game. And his passion for the game, how ruthless he was as a competitor. But it’s more than that as a basketball player. He was a father. There were more families on there. It’s just terrible what happened, man. It’s just such a loss in so many different ways.”

LaVine proudly detailed one anecdote from his rookie season when he scored 28 points off the bench in a Timberwolves road victory at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2014.

“I just remember Kobe was guarding me in the fourth quarter, and obviously I knew growing up and idolizing him that he always guarded the best player [late],” LaVine said. “I had a really good game so he was guarding me, and we were standing at the free-throw line and he tapped me on the butt and said, ‘You know, keep going.’ It was almost shocking to me that I was in that situation as a 19-year-old. It was like, ‘This is a dude I idolized, he’s guarding me.’ It was just surreal.”

LaVine also recalled how he fouled him to send him to the free-throw line that gave Bryant the points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. But LaVine’s takeaways from Bryant were as much professional as personal.

“I try and take his hard work,” LaVine said. “He was somebody that after games, I heard so many different stories from former players that have coached me where if he had a bad game he would stay all night. Or during the summertimes, he wouldn’t take time off.

“Obviously, everybody is different. But I just try and take that mindset of working hard and being in the gym and his mindset of coming in to just kill every game. That was his mindset. There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There’s only one person like that ever. He touched so many lives in the way he affected basketball, and beyond that as well.’’

Young also acknowledged Bryant’s competitiveness.

“He's just always been a clear-cut assassin. There's a reason they call him the Black Mamba. He's one of those guys that's very ferocious, very competitive, do whatever it takes to win, even if it means dunking on his grandmother,” the veteran forward said. “But at the end of the day, he's one of the greatest to ever do it, one of the realest to ever do it. He's put this league on his back. He's helped make the league to what it is today. He's helped inspire and lead the way for guys like me and younger guys to come into this league and be able to do a lot and be able to continue to grind.”

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