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By Sam Smith | 4.16.2015 | 1:39 a.m. CT
The Bulls open the playoffs 6 p.m. Saturday in the United Center against the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the season 41-41, which was nine games behind the Bulls, who were 50-32. This is the fourth time the teams are meeting in the playoffs, the first time since 1990. The Bucks have won two of three. This season the Bulls held a 3-1 edge over the Bucks, losing the last game between the teams April 1 in Milwaukee. Here’s a look at the four games between the teams this season.
1. November 5, 2014; 95-86 Bulls
It was one of the early coming out parties for Pau Gasol, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds with the Bulls off to a hot start at 4-1. It also was a different Bucks team with three starters--Jabari Parker injured, Larry Sanders bought out and Brandon Knight traded--no longer with the team as the playoffs arrive. The Bucks played tough with a 50-42 rebounding advantage as rebounding would be a hot and cold issue with the Bulls all season. The Bulls had the most difficulty, as many teams do, figuring out (or pronouncing) Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led Milwaukee with 13 points and eight rebounds. The Bulls have no obvious matchup for the 6-11 swing man. He was part of a 50-11 Milwaukee bench edge. Derrick Rose had 13 points and seven assists after missing two games with a sprained ankle from the home opener. Taj Gibson with Joakim Noah out after his offseason surgery led with 23 points and 10 rebounds and a vivid defense of Gasol, who had a reputation in Los Angeles for not being tough. “A lot of bull crap stuff,” Gibson said in prescient comments. “Pau is a physical player. People were trying to bash him and trying to say all kind of stuff. He’s a dominant player. I think he’s one of the dominant bigs in this league. He’s showing you right now that he still has it, no matter his age or what; he’s still hungry. It’s always good when you have a post player you can throw it down to and get something positive out of it.” Gasol pulled out the game in which the Bulls led by a point with five minutes left on a big late jumper and two clutch free throws.
2. January 10, 2015; 95-87 Bulls
It was history this time as Gasol set a career high with 46 points and added 18 rebounds as it was the Bulls with a 51-37 rebounding advantage. Rose missed the game with a minor sore knee issue and Kirk Hinrich had one of his better games with 16 points, the only other Bulls besides Gasol in double figures. Jimmy Butler also doing playmaking had 10 assists while Knight led Milwaukee with 20 points. That made the surprising Bucks, who won 15 games last season 20-19, while the Bulls moved to 26-12. Mike Dunleavy was in the midst of his month out with his ankle problem while the Bulls were coming off double digit losses to the Wizards and Jazz in their crazy up and down season. “He wasn’t going to let us lose tonight,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Gasol. “You are talking about a guy who is as highly skilled a big guy as there is in the NBA; he’s been that for a long time. He willed it.” Gasol scored 20 of the Bulls 29 points in the first quarter and with a dozen in the third had 40 points through three quarters. The Bulls would lead comfortably, mostly by double digits, the last eight minutes of the game. “It’s impressive, the longevity of it,” added Hinrich about Gasol. “Fourteenth year to still be going like that.”
3. February 23, 2015; 87-71 Bulls
It was the only truly uncompetitive game of the series as the Bulls got a big 13-point second quarter from Tony Snell to take a 48-33 halftime lead and kept it in double digits the rest of the game. The Bulls went to 36-21 while the Bucks, who at the time were close to overtaking the Bulls, fell to 31-25. The game came just after the big midseason moves when the Bucks traded leading scorer Knight for reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams wasn’t able to play with a foot injury while Hinrich and Gibson were out ill for the Bulls. Rose played, his second of four games against the Bucks this season, but it was one of his poorest shooting games at one of 13, though he did have eight assists. The Bucks got 17 points from Khris Middleton, but were not competitive as the Bulls had a monstrous 62-41 rebounding advantage. Nikola Mirotic had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Gasol had 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Bucks after that 46-point game double teamed him and put a smaller defender on Gasol to try to take advantage of him on defense. “Good work on the glass," said Gasol. "They played small most of the time. So that facilitates on the rebounding end. Good activity, good effort on our part. We’re getting more active. They were committed to double teaming and taking the ball out of my hands. So guys got good looks from the weak side and made big plays. As long as we work together and play well and win that’s what we are here for.” The Bulls five regulars started and it brought them to 15-4 with that five. The Bulls would end the season 17-5 with the regular five starters.
4. April 1, 2015; 95-91 Bucks
That was the matchup game in which the Bulls were outmaneuvered as Carter-Williams repeatedly posted up smaller Aaron Brooks with Rose out during his meniscus surgery recovery. Carter-Williams scored 15 second quarter points. Still, the teams were tied at halftime. When the Bulls tried to help after halftime, the Bucks moved the ball for threes. Still, the Bulls led 74-70 to start the fourth quarter. But they’d be outrebounded 48-40 and Milwaukee again slowed Gasol, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 25 points as the Bulls would fall to 45-30 and the Bucks back to 37-38. The Bucks play small with a lot of switching on defense with their long armed players like Carter-Williams, Antetokoumpo and Middleton, a tactic the Bulls should see plenty of in the playoffs. Still, the Bulls had three cracks with shots in the last minute to tie and missed. The Bucks had a huge 23-10 edge in second chance points and forced 22 turnovers. “They wanted it more that we did; that’s it,” said Gasol. “That’s what the rebounding is about. Putting bodies on people and going after it. We outplayed them in three (previous) games (and nine straight in Milwaukee); tonight they wanted it more than we did. They approached the game with better will and better effort and they got the reward.” Added Joakim Noah: “Bad loss. I saw a team that played hungrier than us tonight; they definitely had the better edge than us and beat us on the boards real bad. I know I have to play at a high level; disappointed right now the way I played. All the hustle stats, every loose ball, all the offensive rebounds they got; disappointing.”
The Bulls Saturday get their first chance to break that current one-game losing streak to Milwaukee.