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The Bulls have been trapped in a spider's web their last two games with the Bucks.
That's the way Milwaukee's aggressive yet responsible defense (one that can over-play potential passes to force offensive players out of their comfort zones but then recover fast enough to prevent back-door baskets) can make an opposing offense feel.
The Bulls have the capability to break free but they'll need to be more forceful than they've been the last two times out. A fan can take confidence that the last time these teams met in Milwaukee, the Bulls committed 28 turnovers and yet were still in position to win the game in final minute. Just commit 20 turnovers in Game 6 and win by 10.
But of course it will be more complicated than that.
Two plays in the last few minutes Monday night were especially disconcerting. One was Michael Carter-Williams going around a suddenly slow-footed Jimmy Butler and all the way to the hoop with no help defense in site. He laid the ball in and the game was just about over. That play would have never happened with a fully operational Joakim Noah in the back of the defense but it is clear now that Joakim is far from his best. And that could well end up being the Bulls' downfall, if not in this series (which I still expect the Bulls to win), then the next.
The other singular play was Derrick Rose driving across the lane in crunch time, putting up the sort of late-game shot he has made more often than not in the past and having it swatted out of there by Giannis "The Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo. That guy is only going to get better, and when he reaches his potential the Bucks will have the opportunity to finally emerge from the Bulls' lengthy shadow after decades in the dark.
In other words, the Bulls need to do everything they can to win right now.
One problem the Bulls had coming into this series - maybe their biggest problem - was that while they were relatively healthy, their myriad health issues, time on the sideline and minutes restrictions during the regular season had prevented the team from playing together in all its various forms.
In other words, the Bulls didn't have enough practice deploying different personnel packages and therefore were not in perfect position to say, go small against an opponent and use an edge in overall quickness to go on a run. Well, now the Bulls will have another game to practice that sort of thing. Perhaps having to work a little harder against the Bucks will be good in the long run - if there is a long run.
One thing that needed to happen yesterday, if not at the start of the series: Tony Snell should be in the starting lineup and Mike Dunleavy, who was a complete non-factor in Game 5, should sit down.
Dunleavy is an easy cover for the Bucks - especially the ones who start. And even if he is the smartest team D guy in history, Dunleavy still doesn't give a team what Snell can: aggressive, long-armed defense that results in tipped passes and chances to get out in transition.
It would be far better for Dunleavy to come into the game against the Bucks' reserves. It shouldn't be terribly difficult to set him up for quality three-point looks in that scenario.
The fact remains that if the Bulls play something close to their best, they will close out this series in six games. And if they could somehow start a game well, as opposed to. say, falling behind 9-0 right off the bat, perhaps they could just keep rolling. The Bucks have won a couple games but there still must be at least a shred of awareness in their collective psyche that just having stretched this series out to six games is a major win for them.
Now all we need is a good Bulls start to put the theory to the test.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on
Mondays Tuesdays. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Steve Rhodes:
You don't seem worried!
Coffman: I'm not. The bottom line is, if they don't play a lot better, they might squeak by the Bucks but then will get torched by LeBron and Kyrie.
Rhodes: The big theme right now seems to be that Thibs is getting outcoached. I have no idea if that is true, but I've never heard anyone say that before.
On the other hand, 24 hours ago Derrick Rose was back and the Love injury meant the Bulls were heading for the championship. Now Rose should be benched, Thibs is going to be fired and the team will be blown up.
When did Bulls fans/commentators turn into Bears fans/commentators?!
Coffman: In football, if a team loses a game it is a big deal. There are only 16 of them in a season after all and the playoffs are single elimination.
People really need to stop themselves (RIP Doug Buffone) from drawing goofy big conclusions from singular basketball results.
Thibodeau isn't being out-coached but a rising young Bucks team is asserting itself more and more.