Not much rattles Dwyane Wade, who Thursday after the Bulls 108-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks wasn’t dialing anyone’s emergency number. Wade faced anxious and worried reporters evenly and firmly, like he always does.
“I’m not concerned,” Wade said when someone demanded that he must be now, after falling 27 points behind a losing Bucks team the game after the Bulls fell 21 points behind a losing Timberwolves team. “I’ve been through everything. You might want to ask someone else that.
“This is my first season here,” Wade pointed out. “I am learning this team, learning these guys; I’m fine. Obviously, stings the things you see happening in games and you want to correct, but you have to go through the process, as we say. We’re learning how tough it is to win in this league. It’s the season we’re in. Have to (come with) our best effort, understand we continue to learn, continue to do things and understand will go on a streak when we put games together. But nothing concerns me in this league.”
So, yes, Wade has experienced things few have in 14 NBA years, from carrying a team to a championship to his assembled Super Heatles Team going almost the first quarter of what was to be an undefeated season one game over .500.
That’s about where the Bulls are now, 13-12 after the young Bucks, like the young Timberwolves Tuesday, made these Bulls look old, slow and basically uncompetitive. At least Thursday for three quarters as the Bulls shaved 16 points off the Milwaukee lead to trail by eight with three minutes left.
“We finally started fighting and got ourselves back, gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game down eight with the ball,” noted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “I thought we had an open look; we turned it down. Unfortunately couldn’t get closer than that.”
That actually appeared to be Doug McDermott after making a three with 4:13 left to get the Bulls within 101-92. Jabari Parker, who had 28 for Milwaukee while Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 and 14 rebounds, missed. Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 21 points, spotted McDermott open on top of the floor for a three. But McDermott pulled the ball down, drove and lost the ball with 3:33 left. Antetokounmpo then finished a lob from Matthew Dellavedova for a slam dunk for a 103-92 Milwaukee lead with 3:18 left.
The Bulls called time and got a three from Butler on the left wing to get within 103-95 with 3:04 left and plenty of time for the amazing comeback. The Bulls were basically playing one quarter, and it was close to enough. It was difficult to test the local nerves because there are so many Illinoisans in Milwaukee for Bulls games.
Antetokounmpo missed a three, a 24 percent three point shooter who actually was two of four on threes. The Bucks, generally a weak shooting three-point team, were 11 for 20 while the Bulls were their usual five for 19 on threes. “That’s not on our scouting report for them to make eight threes (in the first half),” said Wade. “They also got transition points; they got everything they wanted early in the first half.”
But here was the chance. Rajon Rondo, back from missing a game with an ankle sprain, passed to a slicing Butler, whose layup attempt was blocked from behind by Antetokounmpo. You hate for a guy with a name that long to be so crucial so often. Dellavedova then palmed the ball for a turnover with 2:32 left. Bulls still trailing by eight with a another chance. This time John Henson blocked Butler’s driving attempt from the right side again, Butler seeing more double teams with the perimeter shooting still weak. He was six of 16 overall.
Then Henson with just four points got a quick pass in the lane and hooked it in for a 105-95 Bucks lead with 2:03 left. Wade drove back and scored from that right side to get the Bulls back within eight. But Wade went under a screen on a switch and Dellavedova knocked in a three with 1:34 left for an 11-point Bucks lead and just too much to overcome any longer.
“The meetings we’ve had the last two days I would have hoped we would have solved playing half a game or three quarters of a game,” said Hoiberg. “The game against Minnesota was really a quarter and a half; tonight we played the fourth quarter the way you have to play the entire game. We’ll continue to stress it, work on it and we need to continue to improve if we want to have a chance to win games this year.”
Wade was correct in the sense it’s still early in the season with the Bulls playing in a conference in which they still are just a half game out of third. With still a new team and continuing changes, Nikola Mirotic Thursday getting his first DNP and Bobby Portis taking his place in the rotation. Hoiberg said, “Just the way it went.” Portis finished the game with Cristiano Felicio and Denzel Valentine came in first as the backup for Rondo both halves. Hoiberg also commended the much maligned bench for bringing the Bulls back into the game after Wade, particularly, couldn’t get much going through three quarters and then scored a dozen points in the fourth.
“This game is all about rhythm,” said Wade. “Second half of Minnesota game and first half of this game wasn’t in a rhythm at all. Coach wanted to keep me out to find a rhythm and it came with us getting stops and I was out there with that team that got those stops. Hopefully, it (carries) to the next game (against the Bucks home Friday). We can’t snap our fingers and make it happen; we have a different lineup now with Bobby in there, so we are seeing something different. Got to make the adjustment from Niko being in there, but I thought Bobby did a good job once he got his feet under him, getting in there mixing it up. Knowing they are going to be blitzing me and blitzing Jimmy, how am I going to get those guys easy baskets? That’s going to be my goal, which will allow us to be open later.”
But there are concerning signs for the Bulls, the starters for consecutive games overwhelmed and run out by young, athletic teams. It was encouraging to see more from the reserves with eight points from McDermott and seven from Felicio. Taj Gibson added 19 points and kept the Bulls even remotely in the game early.
The Bulls were winning games earlier in the season with tough play on the boards, intelligence in not making mistakes, taking good shots for better percentages, making use of the free throw line, the stuff of veteran teams who are supposed to dominate the mistake prone youngsters. The Bulls aren’t a particularly athletic group, but neither are teams like the Spurs, the recent champion Celtics. It’s supposed to be about executing your offense, being tougher and smarter on defense.
But this week at least, and with some other games the last few weeks, the Bulls have been deluged by young athletes, the Bucks opening the game with a transition clinic, a 30-18 first quarter lead including 10-0 on fast breaks. Milwaukee led 64-45 at halftime after leading by 27 points earlier in the second quarter. The Bulls had 10 first half turnovers for 16 Bucks points, Parker and Antetokounmpo repeatedly running out and dunking with the Bulls having a good view.
“They exposed us,” said Hoiberg. “Parker and Giannis are as fast with the ball, especially for their size, two front court guys; we didn’t react to it. We talked about it every time out. It has to be a conscious effort to get back, to build a wall. These guys score in the paint as well as any team in the league; you have to find a way to limit that.”
The Bulls did finish the first half on a 14-6 run after a Tony Snell dunk (he was still Tony, four of 10, a few air balls and nine points in 31 minutes) when Gibson battered inside on four straight possessions. But the starters, like the way they blew that big lead against Minnesota Tuesday, were knocked back as the Bucks closed a 12-5 start to the second half with another Antetokounmpo steal from Wade and alley oop dunk the other way for a 76-50 Milwaukee lead with 7:30 left in the third quarter.
“It’s hard to get back when you have two bulls coming down the court in Jabari and the Greek Freak,” said Wade.
Butler put his head down and began getting to the free throw line, which got the Bulls deficit under 20, though back to 88-66 Bucks after three. The Bulls offense stops when that occurs, though hard hat Butler was busy, as usual, switching off on defense between Antetokounmpo and Parker and just about anyone depending on who had it going most recently. The Bucks challenged the Bulls’ shooting playing a zone much of the third quarter to get that lead back up again and the Bulls were again caught in multiple mismatches with their switches.
“We didn’t get back in the first half, defensive rebound like we are capable of in the first half, which led to easy points, turned the ball over too much, things that are easily correctable but that you have to execute when you step on the floor,” said Butler. “We didn’t do our job early; we gave them anything they wanted in the half court. They turned us over and got in transition. We didn’t get back once again and the game got out of hand. But you love the way we fought back; guys didn’t give up. I guess you can always look at that as a positive. You have to find positives out of everything. Of those negatives, we have to fix that quickly.”
Yes, Jimmy Sunshine.
With Wade awakening, the Bulls hit Milwaukee with a 12-0 run and suddenly it was 95-83 Bucks with 7:14 left. And the Bucks were shooting like they often do, making it safe for deer everywhere in Wisconsin. The Bulls finally won a fourth quarter, but not enough and much too late. They’ll get another chance Friday against those same kids. If they aren’t ready this time, well, someone figures to be concerned.