The Milwaukee Bucks headed into this season after suffering one of their worst seasons in franchise history. After a 15-67 campaign, the expectation was not very high for the 2014-2015 campaign. But with the addition of a new coach and new ownership, the Bucks far and away did better than last season. They finished with a 41-41 record, good for sixth place in the East. The stumbled a little after the trade of leading scorer Brandon Knight for Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams, but they righted the ship enough to finish on a positive note in the regular season. This young team, with very little playoff experience, was headed into battle with the veteran Chicago Bulls, who have years of playoff experience up and down their roster. The Bulls were heavily favored by many due to their experience as well has other factors and this figured to be an uphill battle for the Bucks. But one key thing that truly shifted the dynamic of the Bucks matching up to the Bulls happened in Phoenix on December 15th, 2014. On that night, the Bucks were playing the Suns and rookie forward and Jabari Parker was having a pretty good game that night. He was 3/7 for 8 points in 15 minutes. But on a drive to the basket, Parker collided with Suns forward PJ Tucker and his left knee just gave weigh. Parker was diagnosed with a torn ACL and he would miss the rest of the season.
Parker was only averaging around 12.3 points per game, but he was starting to figure it out more and more on the court. He had scored in double figures the previous four games and was starting to carve out his role on the team. And above all, he was the scorer the Bucks needed. Milwaukee is realizing how much they need him at this point right now. Heading into this series versus Chicago, it was known that the Bucks would have to muck up the game to give them a chance to win. They would need to be selective in running the court and get back to stop Chicago from running as well. In the first two games, the Bulls have been slowed in the transition game. Chicago had twelve points in the first game in transition and in the second game, they only allowed two points in transition. The problem that happened in Game 1 was the play of Derrick Rose, who was spectacular, scoring 23 points. And in Game 2, they gained the edge inside, but they also allowed Jimmy Butler to go crazy to the tune of 31 points and were dominated on the boards 64 to 48. The Bucks are now headed back to Milwaukee with a 2-0 deficit and are searching for answers. The teams hit some shots and made some things happen, but the piece they need for regularity offensively is sitting on the bench as a cheerleader for the rest of the season.
Parker, although he is not the best defender, would have been a huge player to have on the team for the rest of the season and this playoff run. He can do so many things to make you feel uncomfortable guarding him. He can shoot, handle the basketball and also post up against opposing defenders. He truly was a matchup nightmare everytime he was on the court. And he was truly a scorer, something the Bucks only have one of right now in guard Khris Middleton. With Parker out there, the Bucks would have been able to make Michael Carter-Williams even more of a distributor and also would have allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to focus on being a facilitator, finisher on the wing and a defensive dynamo with his size, athleticism and shot-blocking ability. Imagine a tandem of Antetokoumpo and Parker running the wings with Carter-Williams running the point. That would be extremely dangerous and hazardous to anyone that decided to jump when Parker or Antetokoumpo attacked the rim. That lineup would have put even more pressure on the Bulls to perform offensively. It also would have allowed the Bucks to capitalize even more on the turnovers the Bulls had in the last two games versus Milwaukee.
The presence of Parker on the offensive end would also have helped the Bucks shooting the basketball. The Bucks have not shot over 40% in both games in the playoffs. They have very little consistent outside shooting on their team and that has helped contribute to the sub-30% three-point percentage as well. In Game 1, the Bulls were hot from the field and the Bucks could not hit enough shots to catch up. And that was the big reason behind their loss in Game 1. In Game 2, the reason the Bucks could never really run away from the Bulls was because they could not knock down shots consistently. And because of that, the Bulls were able to figure it out offensively without having to worry about the Bucks doing much. Parker was smooth on the offensive end and his shooting percentage reflected the smooth game he had. Parker was not the quickest guy at his position, but he was a guy that could hit the open shot. He shot almost 50 % from the field this year and when he got his opportunities to make it happen, he was efficient with his game, using his handles as well as his pullup jumper. All the Bucks needed was someone to knock down some shots to help them put away the Bulls early when they had them down in Game 2. They could have used Parker’s offense at anytime in Game 1 because the Bucks were simply not able to keep up with the Bulls offensively. The loss of the rookie out of Duke has hurt them bigtime right now. And the hope for this season is slowly fading away.
Heading into Game 3, the Bucks can only hope for the tide to turn in their direction. They will be at home and hopefully their fans will show up and support them. Chicago isn’t far away and there will definitely be the presence of Bulls fans in the arena. But for the Bucks, the experience they gained in the playoffs so far should help them grow as a team. It also would help if they had their young wing scorer available to them. But alas, he is out for the rest of the year. And with him out, the case for them to give the Bulls issues was dismissed before the series even started.