It seems like there are two opposing trains of thought that can be jumped on after games like the Milwaukee Bucks 95-87 loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls Saturday night.
The first one goes something like this
Hey, the Bucks hung tough with the Bulls for four quarters. They had a four point lead with 2:55 left. Yeah, they blew the lead, but that’s just because they got cold. If the Bucks of earlier this season were playing, they would have lost by 20 tonight. This team is close. Derrick Rose had the best game of his career, and the Bucks still didn’t back down. John Salmons came alive again in the third. He’s close to being back to who he was last season. He was 9-16 with 25 points through three. If the Bucks shot just a touch better than four for 20 in that fourth quarter, they get a win. They won’t shoot that badly to close games out all the time. This is a team to fear if they make the playoffs. And they will, they still have time.
The second one is a little different:
The Bucks played practically flawless basketball for the large majority of the game and still lost. That’s the problem with having painted themselves into such a corner, so late in the year. After losing to the Kings, the Bucks needed a surprise win against a good team to get themselves back into the playoff race. This was the opportunity and they blew it. This game was a clear illustration of what’s wrong with the Bucks. They have no one to step up when they need someone to step up. Rose had 10 points and four assists in the fourth quarter. He scored or assisted on Chicago’s final 16 points. Who is the Bucks go-to guy? John Salmons? He missed all five of the shots he took in the fourth. Season’s over.
With just 10 games left, the Bucks still sit three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot. The odds are against them, but it isn’t impossible, they aren’t mathematically out of anything just yet. This game stung quite a bit, because strong play for three quarters had people believing they could pull off the win. But they disappointed in the end. Disappointment has been a theme throughout this once promising season. It’s been prominent enough that Bucks fans will probably gravitate towards the second train of thought above, if only so they delightfully surprised if the first one proves true.
It’s disappointing Milwaukee was unable to close this one out, but it certainly isn’t surprising. More often than not, the team with the best player will win games that are close like this one was. Two very good defensive teams are probably going to play good defense as the game ends. But there is no defense for a player like Rose when he gets going. He was unstoppable at the end of the game.
“He’s so fast man. I don’t think he sees or feels contact. He’s incredibly fast, he’s a very gifted player. To me, I think he’s the best player in the league. Look how he’s closing games out, what other player is doing that,” Larry Sanders said of Rose after the game. And he was not the only one who was impressed.
“That guy is a top flight player at his position, that’s what he is,” Coach Scott Skiles said of Rose postgame. “And he’s getting better all the time. He’s got speed, he’s got power, he’s got a great handle and he’s added the jump shot. He’s always had good vision and toughness. That’s a combination that turns into a great player.”
Rose finished with 30 points on nine of 17 shooting, while dishing out a career best 17 assists against just two turnovers. His unfailing ability to blow by Bucks perimeter defenders and get into the paint proved too much for Milwaukee to handle. Many of his assists led to dunks and layups, as Bucks bigs and forwards had to help over to him once he got past Milwaukee’s first line of defense. He was more than willing to share the ball and knew where to find his teammates as they cut to the rim.
If Rose and his teammates seemed a little more fresh down the stretch than their counterparts on the Bucks, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. While the Bulls rotation extended 11 deep, Milwaukee played just eight players on Saturday, as they have on a few occasions lately.
“We’ve had some success lately with a really shortened rotation and trying to let the guys feel more comfortable with how many minutes they’re gonna get,” Coach Skiles said. “We played well for a good portion of the game tonight. The game was right there for us to take. They took it, we didn’t.”
Milwaukee’s “Big Three” off the bench didn’t exactly set the world on fire themselves either. Sanders, Keyon Dooling and Jon Brockman combined for seven points on three for 12 shooting. Skiles noted the lack of production out of those three as he noted the Bucks could have used one more big scoring performance to match Carlos Delfino’s 23 and Salmons’s 25.
“Even though we only played three guys off the bench we needed a little bit more off the bench than we got in those minutes,” he said.
The most glaring deficiency Saturday was when Dooling was forced into action at the off-guard position. Chicago runs so many off ball screens and has big guards that neutralize any defensive advantage gained with Dooling at the two. And offensively, Dooling was unproductive, missing five shots while turning the ball over twice against three assists.
With Drew Gooden, Michael Redd and Corey Maggette sitting in uniform on the bench, one can only wonder what if they had been healthy all season? What if they were able to develop the same type of chemistry with the Bucks starters of last season that have reclaimed their places this season. It’s that lack of trust of two separate sects on a team that leaves them on the bench while Skiles rides the guys he knows. This late in the season, there is simply no time to build it back up. So don’t expect much to change until the Bucks are out of the playoff picture or out of games early. Like it or not.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).