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Bucks' veteran bench helps Milwaukee avoid sweep

Bayless buzzer-beater seals Bulls' sloppy performance

POSTED: Apr 26, 2015 12:32 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Bulls vs. Bucks Game 4

O.J. Mayo's 18 points and Jerryd Bayless' late game heroics help the Bucks beat the Bulls, 92-90.

— One team wasn't ready for summer. The other isn't ready for prime time. So while the former gets what it wants, the latter gets what it needs: Another game to get things right.

The Milwaukee Bucks were done taking baby steps by the time they tipped off at home against the Chicago Bulls Saturday afternoon.

That crawl-walk-run stuff along the NBA playoff curve was fine when the series started, and the feisty double-overtime lesson was fine for what it was, a moral victory and a promise of things to come.

The only thing left, then, was for the Bucks to actually take a game from the Bulls in the best-of-seven first round series. To learn by actually doing. And they did it, 92-90, riding a crew of salty veterans down the stretch and capitalizing on the craftiness of coach Jason Kidd, deploying it now on the sideline after a Hall of Fame career as a point guard.

Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags in cleaning out their locker rooms after being swept in the playoffs.

"This was a mental game," Dudley said. "A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You're down 3-0... But we're still young. People don't even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, 'Hey, this is how you have to do it.' "

Milwaukee's bench -- those four guys -- scored 47 points of their team's 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks' 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: "This is perfect to see where we're at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] -- if not, we'll be home. It's up to us."

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

It was a doozy.

"Everybody was moving and everybody was live," Kidd said. "We talk about it: When we run a play, it's just not for the person who's trying to get a shot up, but that everybody's live."

Dudley reminded Bayless of that before they set up: "Bayless asked me before the play, 'Are you really going to pass it?' I was, 'Hey, everyone's live.' "

Dudley -- whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references -- spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. "I was kind of shocked that Bay'd be behind him," said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. "You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored."

Bayless' Buzzer Beater

With less than two seconds on the clock, Jerryd Bayless receives the inbound pass and lays it in for the game-winning shot.

Bayless' reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago's River North night spots.

"A lot of us have been in, I'm not going to say 'unfavorable' but we've been around," Bayless said. "We've been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I've been on teams, 'Duds' has been on teams and John ... he's had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs -- and try to win -- it's something I'm really happy to be a part of."

The Bulls, by comparison, were the glamorous team of this matchup. Its veterans are starters, stars and All-Stars. They were the ones with every incentive to complete a sweep Saturday, send their fans who flooded the BMO Harris Bradley Center down I-94 happy and give themselves maximum rest and prep time before heading into the conference semifinals against (most likely) nemesis Cleveland.

Instead, they turned over the ball 28 times, fueling 39 points by Milwaukee. They were too casual with the ball, too reliant on Jimmy Butler -- who scored 33 points but just five in the fourth quarter -- for their offense and then too static at the end counting on Rose to create ... something. Worst of all, the Bulls were outworked all night.

"Their intensity, their ball pressure," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They were very active with their hands, pop the ball loose. When you are aggressive like that and making someone react to you, you have an advantage."

The just-happy-to-be-here team bested the team with loftier ambitions. The Bucks were hungrier and sharper in gaining the franchise's first playoff victory in five years. Meanwhile, the Bulls stumbled once more against a so-called lesser opponent (half of Chicago's 32 losses this season came against sub-.500 teams).

That's a bad look, embarrassing against a No. 6 seed but humiliating if the Bulls play that way against LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers. So like it or not, they get another game to clean things up and hone -- or find -- their edge. The Bucks added two days to their season, another chance to pester their state-line rivals when it might irritate most.

"This one was for Milwaukee, the city," Dudley said, respectful but enjoying himself afterward. "A lot of Bulls fans came here today, you see a lot of red. We're trying to strive eventually for that, all the championships they have. I hope they have a nice bus ride back home and we'll see them on Monday."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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