What looked like a sweep has suddenly become a series.
The Milwaukee Bucks – after trailing the Chicago Bulls 3-0 in their first-round playoff series – have won back-to-back games, including a 94-88 win in Chicago on Monday to force a Game 6. If the Bucks can defend their home court on Thursday, they’ll head back to Chicago for a do-or-die Game 7 this Saturday.
“This is really big for the city right now,” Bucks small forward Jared Dudley said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I know it’s the first time they’ve been in the playoffs in awhile. Last week, it seemed like we might get swept and now we’re here, (we) possibly can force Game 7 and now we’re at home. Guys are a lot more confident now than they were early in the series.”
That the Bucks have made this a series – especially after going 15-67 a year ago – is impressive, if not astonishing. The city of Milwaukee has taken notice.
“To be honest with you, we first got there this year, the stadium’s empty, they won 15 games last year – there wasn’t a lot of buzz,” Dudley said. “Now you got a team. You got Giannis (Antetokounmpo) obviously playing at a high level the second half of the season. Michael Carter-Williams (had) a big game (in Game 5). Now we’re here in the first round where, hey, the big thing is can you win on the road? It’s a lot easier to win at home. And the way we won yesterday, now there’s more of a belief. Even though we’re still down 3-2, people are expecting us to force Game 7 out here. That’s good to have the turnaround so fast.”
To be fair, Milwaukee could very easily be leading this series. The Bucks led by 18 points in Game 3 before ultimately falling, 113-106, in double overtime. Derrick Rose scored 34 points to stun the Bucks in Milwaukee.
“I think after that, everyone was devastated,” Dudley said. “I think that when we came back into practice, we watched the film, and basically Games 2 and 3 were both winnable games. Game 3, we had a chance to win twice. We were up 18, and they were up eight in the fourth quarter. We come back, tie it and have two chances to win the game. For us, it was, ‘Hey, guys, let’s just get one.’”
They did. Then they got another.
“When you have a young team – once you get a win – as a player, then you start believing,” Dudley said. “The experienced team, they were winning the close games. They knew how to execute. They knew how to get a great shot instead of a good shot. That’s what we were struggling with. We were struggling with our young players and shot selection and taking care of the ball. You know in the playoffs you got to value the ball and we weren’t doing that for the first three games. In that fourth game, we did just enough to win. That confidence led over to the following game.”
Carter-Williams did a better job getting to the hoop Monday. After scoring eight points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 4, he had 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting in Game 5. All but one of his attempts came from inside the arc.
“We were on him in film session,” Dudley said. “The Bulls (want) him and Giannis to shoot contested twos. That’s a positive for them. They don’t want them getting to the basket. Derrick Rose is going under on every screen and roll. Our bigs have done a better job of setting it lower (and) forcing him to go over – and if he does go under, then it’s a race between him Derrick Rose to the basket. And when Michael gets to the paint, he’s a tall guard. He’s only having to finish over one guy. We’ve (done) a better job spacing the floor when (Joakim) Noah and (Taj) Gibson help out, hitting a couple shots. This last game, Noah and (Pau) Gasol kind of stayed home a little bit more so it opened a lane up for him and Giannis to attack.”
The Bucks are gunning for their first playoff series win since 2001. They advanced to the conference finals that year, ultimately losing to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers.