What a weird night it was in Milwaukee. Last night's 95-91 loss to the Bucks wasn't the worst loss Chicago's suffered this season, but it was definitely the worst individual game they've played all told. However, I'm ultimately going to take the optimistic approach when looking at this loss because the playoffs do -- in fact -- not start today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. So with that, here are five observations and notes I'd like to share with you.
1) The Bulls played one of the worst games any team has played all season
Last night, the Bulls committed 20 turnovers, allowed 20 offensive rebounds and shot less than 20 percent (5-26) from three-point range. Only Memphis -- coming in a loss on Dec. 3 against Houston -- has accomplished that trifecta of awfulness. And if we were to tack on the sub 65 percent free throw percentage the Bulls posted last night, then we'd find out that since the 1985-86 season (as far back as Basketball Reference's data dates back to) a game in which a team commits 20 turnovers, allows 20 offensive boards, shoots less than 20 percent from three and less than 65 percent from the line has happened only 37 times. And unsurprisingly, teams are 9-28 in such games.
So, yeah, the Bulls were historically bad last night. Which is why I wouldn't be quick to say last night gave Milwaukee confidence in regards to a potential playoff match-up. I'd still love to see the Bucks in the playoffs, which we'll pick back up momentarily.
2) Awful Officiating
Never not one time have I used this space to criticize officials, but last night they were egregiously bad. And that's not to say they hosed the Bulls -- in fact, I'd say they favored Chicago more than anything. I mean, every Bucks starter finished with at least three fouls. The refs missed a blatant travel call on Jimmy Butler and only compounded their mistake by unjustly assessing a couple of T's to Milwaukee. And actually, all three technical fouls the Bucks were assessed last night were unjust. Countless tick-tack offensive fouls. And all of that wasn't even the worst part.
Last night's game featured SIX official reviews. It took five minutes in real time to finish the final 30 seconds of the third quarter. Then there was the instance at the end of the game where, like, what exactly were the refs doing? They seriously went to review the final score of the game. I'd never seen anything quite like that before:
Did the refs in the Bucks-Bulls game just review if the Bucks had more points than the Bulls at the buzzer?— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) April 2, 2015
3) Two for one: Jimmy Butler
First and foremost, like Kevin mentioned in his recap: seeing Jimmy Butler run the offense down the stretch would have been nice. But instead, Tom Thibodeau instituted his trademark double point guard lineup. Even without Kirk Hinrich, who went down with a leg injury, Thibs couldn't break from the mold. There's no reason for Aaron Brooks to be out there given how Michael Carter-Williams, at one point, scored 15 straight points going right at Brooks in the post. And to give you an idea of how big a mismatch it truly was:
I'm glad E'Twaun Moore got minutes and steal this was really sweet. But I think a Jimmy / Tony Snell / Nikola Mirotic / Taj Gibson / Pau Gasol lineup was the move last night.
Then there's also how Butler completely dominated advanced stat darling Khris Middleton last night. Before making his final three shots, Middleton was 2-12 from the field and that's all Butler's doing. I'd pay a large sum of money to have either of these guys play on my team, but last night Butler (again) showed me why he's worth every penny of the max contract he's going to receive this summer.
Butler: 25 points (8-18 FG, 1-4 3PT, 8-8 FT), seven rebounds, three assists and three steals
Middleton: 14 points (5-15 FG, 2-6 3PT, 2-2 FT), four rebounds and two assists.
4) Air balls
Anecdotally, I maintain this theory that an air ball favors the offensive team in terms of rebounding position. Last night, in particular, seemed to feature a number of instances where my theory would be supported. Although I have zero empirical evidence to support this claim, in general, I firmly believe it to be true. So take this for what it's worth as an over-arching hypothesis.
5) The playoff race
Your Friendly Blogger took a look at this earlier in the week, but here's a mini updated version:
With seven games left, the Bulls play five teams that they should beat with the possible exception being Miami. They play Cleveland on Sunday, and then they play Atlanta in the regular season finale -- who may or may not be resting guys by that point. My stance this entire season has been to not look past the first round of the playoffs. One step at a time, so to speak. Give me Milwaukee. That's where I'm at and where I'm staying.
The Raptors -- now the No. 3 seed -- have seven very winnable games remaining on their schedule. They've won three straight and are possibly starting to peak, but they also play two back-to-backs to end the season which is rough.
Cleveland also has seven more games left and realistically could close the season on a seven-game win streak. The least plausible scenario for the Bulls would be for them to overtake the division lead from Cleveland. The Cavs have a tidy three game cushion for the division and Chicago would absolutely need to beat Cleveland on Sunday to have any shot at the No. 2 seed.
Washington has seven games left but plays Memphis, Atlanta (again, who may be resting guys) and Cleveland (who also may be resting guys) to end the season. The only reason I even mention Washington -- it goes without saying that the Wizards match-up extremely well with Chicago -- is because if the Bulls were to drop to the No. 5 and lose home court advantage, then that'd be the worst imaginable scenario. I shudder to think about it.