Let’s assume the Bulls advance past the Milwaukee Bucks — whom they lead three games to one, with Game 5 on Monday at the United Center — and move on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.
What do we think? What is relevant for success?
Well, there are lessons we only can hope the Bulls learned — or relearned — against the Bucks.
Prime among them: Weird, critical things that have monumental impact can happen
in playoff games.
Derrick Rose fell asleep on the Bucks’ clever last-second inbounds play in Game 4 that resulted in a game-winning layup by guard Jerryd Bayless. You can’t doze in the playoffs. Ever.
And you must remember that leads and sweet situations never last. For example, the Bucks had an 18-point lead in Game 3 and lost. The Bulls were tied and had the ball with two seconds left in regulation in Game 4 and lost.
We all can identify with Rose’s momentary forgetfulness on that last play — what, you never have drifted off? — but the act just can’t happen. Particularly not in the last tick of a potential close-out game.
The next thing to realize is that every team ratchets up its defense in the playoffs. It happens.
Don’t try to dribble through frenzied, long-armed double teams (Rose, Aaron Brooks) or try to make passes that don’t stand a chance (Nikola Mirotic, Pau
Gasol, et al).
Never, ever forget that almost every NBA player can make a shot from almost anywhere on the court.
Last-second shots taken from midcourt or while falling out of bounds that go in at the buzzer always seem to amaze observers. Jimmy Butler made a 26-foot bank shot just before halftime Saturday, for example, to tie the score at 50. The fact is, desperation shots often are reasonable shots that are seldom taken.
My guess is the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry could shoot close to 40 percent from anywhere closer than the far free-throw line. Others can, too. Indeed, somebody shot a video of LeBron James after a recent practice calmly throwing a basketball like a baseball from the baseline through the hoop at the other end.
Do not forget that. Do not stop until time is out. Never concede a shot from anywhere.
OK, here’s something else to consider: In the playoffs, everybody’s emotions are ratcheted up. Mean guys get meaner. Calm guys can get their anger buttons pushed hard. Reputations, not to mention games and paychecks, are on the line.
The Bucks’ O.J. Mayo pushed the Bulls’ Taj Gibson hard at the waist from behind Saturday, and Gibson landed flat on his back after a flailing, helpless fall.
There could have been a fight on the spot. Thankfully, there wasn’t. It would have accomplished nothing, except maybe getting somebody tossed. Earlier, Brooks, frustrated and taunted by Bayless, gave him a forearm to the chest.
That could have gotten ugly, too, but Brooks was assessed a personal foul and a flagrant foul, and the air calmed.
In the Cavs’ Game 4 victory Sunday against the Boston Celtics, a near-brawl occurred when the Cavs’ Kendrick Perkins flattened the Celtics’ Jae Crowder on a pick. There was much anger flowing in that game, one that saw Cavs star Kevin Love injured while locking arms with the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and the Cavs’ J.R. Smith ejected for hitting ‘‘enforcer’’ Crowder in the face.
The idea that there are enforcers in basketball, a game that isn’t hockey, needs to stay in the Bulls’ minds.
Next, beware quirky plays you haven’t seen before that can change everything. There have been several of those in the Bulls-Bucks series, but how about this from the Cavs-Celtics game: James took the ball out of bounds after a made shot by the Celtics. As he was throwing it in, he forgot the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas was still out of bounds behind him. Thomas reached around and deflected the pass from behind while both he and James were out of bounds, the Celtics stole the ball and got two points.
The refs looked at the play on TV. They didn’t reverse anything. Nobody had seen anything like this before. Suddenly, though, a comfortable last-minute lead was a two-possession game.
Learn and relearn. That’s the playoffs.
Oh, and get past that pesky Bucks team, too.