By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) – It was ugly early, hard fought throughout and closed out by Jimmy Butler – and exactly the result the Bulls wanted.READ MORE: Woman Shot In Hand In Broad Daylight In Irving Park
Chicago slugged out a 91-82 win against Milwaukee on Monday night at the United Center to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series. Here are the notes and observations of the night.
1. Taj Gibson’s words proved to be prophetic.
“It’s going to be more physical,” Gibson said at Sunday’s practice ahead of Game 2. “I know for a fact.”
Monday’s final tally: 41 fouls, seven technical fouls, two skirmishes, one ejection and a bevy of bodies flying in the paint all evening.
The first scrum came with 8:53 left in the second quarter, when Bulls point guard Aaron Brooks stepped in front of Bucks big man John Henson on the way down the court. What happened next was no surprise, with the 230-pound Henson trucking over the 185-pound Brooks.
After he did, Henson lingered over Brooks and stared him down. That didn’t sit well with Butler or Joakim Noah, and trash talk and pushing ensued. Butler, Noah, Henson and O.J. Mayo were all tagged with technical fouls. Brooks was called for a common foul.
With 2:48 left in the game, Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic and Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia got into a more serious scuffle, as Pachulia appeared to elbow/hit Mirotic around the head after the two battled for a loose ball on the floor. Mirotic pushed back, and Pachulia wildly swung his arm again, whiffing the second time.
Both received technical fouls, and Pachulia was ejected, as it was his second technical of the night.
Pau Gasol called Pachulia’s play “stupid,” but the Bulls largely downplayed any notion that the Bucks were dirty, though they added they’re ready for anything.
“It’s playoff basketball,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You got the same teams going at it each day. A lot of it’s will, determination, how badly do you want it. That’s sort of the nature of the business.”
The Bulls proved they wanted it in Game 2, as they had a plus-16 differential in rebounding and had a sparkling defensive rebounding rate of 84.7 percent. Noah had a game-high 19 rebounds, and Gasol had 16.
“We’re going to be ready for everything,” Gasol said.
“If that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
2. After a flashy Game 1 performance in which he scored 23 points, Derrick Rose went scoreless in the first half Monday on 0-of-7 shooting. Rose found little resistance in the opener after beating Milwaukee’s perimeter defenders, but the Bucks did a better job of corralling him in Game 2. They pressured him high to throw off his rhythm, then doubled or hard hedged on pick-and-rolls while staying in position behind. Rose also didn’t get his outside shot to fall in the first half.
The third quarter was a different story. Rose scored 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, and 4-of-4 shooting from the free-throw line. Even amid his shooting struggles, Rose contributed elsewhere.
He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three turnovers. Afterward, Thibodeau lauded Rose’s all-around game.
“When you’re missing shots, I think you got to do other things to help the team, whether it’s the defense, the rebounding, making plays,” Thibodeau said. “I thought Derrick did that. Once he got lost in the game and started doing other things, then he found his offensive rhythm.”
Thibodeau had cautioned pregame not to put too much weight into any single performance by Rose, good or bad.READ MORE: Member Of Illinois House Speaker Welch's Staff Tests Positive For COVID-19 In Springfield
“One game doesn’t mean he’s back,” Thibodeau said. “If he didn’t play well, it doesn’t mean he’s not going to play well (next game). I just want him to keep improving, keep doing the things that he’s doing.”
3. While Rose often remains the Bulls’ top option in crunch time because of his ability to create for himself or others, one of the strengths of this team is that Butler, Gasol and Mirotic have been the go-to guys down the stretch at various times this season.
On Monday, it was Butler who shined late, as he scored 14 of his career playoff-high 31 points in the fourth quarter. Butler shot 4-of-5 in the frame, including 3-of-3 from deep. He also had a ferocious dunk over Pachulia that’s certain to make the rounds on the highlight reel.
“He was really feeling himself after that,” Noah said of Butler’s dunk.
In finding space to operate late, Butler credited Rose, “who makes it easier.”
“Everybody probably pays attention to him more than they pay attention to me,” Butler said.
Butler couldn’t explain his fourth-quarter outburst either.
“I took a lot of bad shots that happened to go in, but it was within the flow of the game,” Butler said.
4. For the second straight game, the Bucks consistently double teamed Gasol, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Milwaukee did so most often upon the catch for Gasol, then had the wheels spinning elsewhere with defensive rotations.
It worked wonders in the first quarter, which ended abysmally with the Bucks leading 16-11 and the Bulls shooting just 5-of-21 in the frame. Thibodeau pointed to a lack of ball movement in the first half as the primary reason for Chicago’s offensive struggles. It was better in the second half, he thought, and in a credit to the coaching staff, Gasol and other Bulls moved around more in the final 24 minutes.
By getting to the high post in the middle of the floor, the Bulls made it harder to double team and created some quality weak-side shots or opportunities to get to the rim.
Gasol had a career-high 46 points against the Bucks in the regular season.
“I just want to make the right basketball play,” Gasol said. “If they continue to do it, so be it.
“It’s a little bit surprising that it’s so consistent to this point. We’ll see if that changes. I have to be ready to assert myself at some point if the double teams go away.”
5. The Bulls didn’t escape Game 2 unscathed. Mirotic left late in the game with what the team called a left quad strain. He was limping noticeably in the postgame locker room and will be evaluated Tuesday morning.
In addition to that injury, Mirotic also took that solid hit to the head from Pachulia. Mirotic didn’t take questions afterward, and Thibodeau didn’t have an update.
Mirotic’s role increased in Game 2, as he played 22-plus minutes to Gibson’s 11. In Game 1, Gibson played 24-plus minutes while Mirotic played 13-plus. Part of the reason was likely that the Bulls needed an infusion of offense after the ugly 11-point first quarter, and Mirotic is a more dangerous scorer than Gibson.
“I like the way Niko didn’t back down, obviously,” Butler said. “For it being his first playoff series, I think Niko’s handling everything extremely well.”MORE NEWS: Bomb Squad Called In After Live Grenade Is Found In South Austin
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.