CHICAGO (AP) So much for this being a quick, easy tuneup for the Chicago Bulls.
Suddenly, they’re on their heels.
Their 3-0 lead over the Bucks is down to 3-2, and if they drop Game 6 Thursday at Milwaukee, this first-round playoff series would really get interesting.
”I don’t know if we were comfortable or confident or overlooking them,” Pau Gasol said after Game 5 on Monday night. ”I just think we didn’t play with enough sense of urgency and desire, which you have to do when you’re ready to close out a team when you have them in that position. We’re going to have to play the next game like it’s the last game, not think that if we lose this one, we still have a chance, that we can play at home in Game 7. That would be a terrible mistake.”
No team has lost a best-of-7 series after winning the first three games, so history is at least on the Bulls’ side. But they let two big opportunities slip away.
They lost Game 4 on a last-second layup and came up short with another chance to put away the Bucks, falling 94-88 at home on Monday night.
Derrick Rose struggled in a big way for the second straight game after a promising start to the postseason, and the Bulls find themselves regrouping rather than getting ready for LeBron James and a Cleveland Cavaliers team that will be without the injured Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Chicago, ironically, has all its key players available, something it rarely had during the regular season because of injuries. But they are struggling at the moment.
”There’s two things that you want at this time of the year,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday. ”You want your health, and you want to be playing well. If you have health and you’re not playing well, that does you no good. If you’re playing fairly well and you don’t have health, that’s probably going to hurt you also.”
Thibodeau gave his team the day off on Tuesday. Players came in for treatment and some worked on their shot.
They will practice and review video on Wednesday, and what they see won’t be pretty.
The Bulls have been getting beaten to loose balls. They’re having trouble shaking defenders, and they’re not pushing the tempo on offense, getting the transition game going.
”I think they just played harder than we did on both ends of the floor,” Jimmy Butler said. ”End of story.”
Actually, it’s an ongoing saga with a big subplot looming in the background -the future of Thibodeau. There has been plenty of speculation about his job security even though he boasts a 255-139 record and has led them to the playoffs all five seasons.
But for now, the Bulls need to shake off two rough games and move past the Bucks. Chicago is shooting 40.5 percent the past two games and has 45 assists and 41 turnovers during this stretch.
It’s been particularly rough for Rose. He has a combined 27 points and almost twice as many turnovers (14) as assists (eight) over the past two games. He is 10 for 33 from the field and 2 for 11 on 3-pointers in that span.
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton tipped the ball from a dribbling Rose to force a steal late in Game 4 with the score tied. Then, Chicago’s star point guard got beaten backdoor by Jerryd Bayless off an inbounds pass.
In Game 5, Rose had 13 points and six turnovers. He shot 5 of 20, missed all seven 3-pointers and was outplayed by Michael Carter-Williams.
The 2011 MVP continues to fight through the inconsistency brought on by missing most of the previous two seasons because of injuries to each knee. Rose also sat out about six weeks late in the regular season after a minor procedure on his right knee.
”You’ve got to understand Derrick’s been out a long time,” Thibodeau said. ”There’s going to be some bumps in the road, there have been all season long. Hopefully, he’ll continue to improve. When you miss the amount of time he’s missed – and you’ve got to remember the playoffs are different than the regular season; he’s readjusting to that as well – he’ll bounce back. He’ll be fine.”