There is no shame in losing to a better team, and we can all agree the Bucks are better than the Bulls after another 119-95 wipeout at the United Center in Game 4 of the teams’ best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
The defending champions of the NBA — now one win from the second round, with Game 5 set for Wednesday in Milwaukee — are better than the Bulls in much the same way that lounging in the sun is better than drowning in an avalanche, a warm hug is better than a knee to the groin and pizza is better than no pizza.
Which is to say, it’s not even close.
But didn’t we all know this already? We should have, considering the Bucks have been headbutting the Bulls and stuffing them into a locker since 2017, but then Game 2 came along. In that game, the Bulls actually managed to — get this — not lose for once, causing a lot of us to feel something resembling hope.
After the Bulls lost by a combined 54 points in Games 3 and 4 — on their own turf, no less — there might as well have been a ceremonial burning of that hope in the UC parking lot. There’s no shame in losing to a better team, but there is in pretending the Bucks are anything less than levels above the Bulls; not just better but in a different league. These teams could run best-of-seven series back three times, five times, 10 times, and the squad with the better talent, size, experience, depth, discipline and togetherness would just keep winning.
Is there even any point to this Game 5 business?
“Just stay positive,” DeMar DeRozan said. “First and foremost, you can’t show panic. Especially veteran guys, you can’t show panic. You’ve got to understand that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Sorry, but nope. Where there’s a series between a champion capable of repeating and an upstart that hasn’t known the first thing about “up” since before the All-Star break, there’s no way.
And another thing: There’s no shame in Zach LaVine saying, as he did in February, that he and DeRozan were “the best duo in the NBA.” It’s great to believe in oneself and one’s teammates like that, and back then — when the Bulls actually had the best record in the league — it sounded mighty good even if it wasn’t all that convincing.
But it would be inexcusable for the Bulls front office, led by Arturas Karnisovas, to proceed into the future without fully embracing the reality of the moment — which is that DeRozan is wearing down in this rugged series and LaVine is still closer to borderline All-Star than he is to superstar. Would you rather have DeRozan and LaVine or the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are young, versatile and curb-stomping everything in their path? There’s only one answer. Would you rather have Giannis Antetokounmpo and, say, a Bucks social-media intern? Please, take all the time you need.
Meanwhile, there’s no shame in booing Grayson Allen — cursing the day he was born might be a tad over the top — but there is in being unable to admit he’s the best player coming off the bench for either team in this series and that the Bulls would be incredibly lucky to have one or two guys just like him.
Be honest: Do you see Alex Caruso out there stroking threes, finishing athletic drives and getting under the skin of the opposition like Allen? Yet Caruso is a Bulls team leader and fan favorite, further indicative of the gap between these two teams.
There’s no shame in Bulls coach Billy Donovan not knowing where to turn for answers when his team is too small, not physically strong enough, far from skilled enough off the bench and with key players who are just coming (Ayo Dosunmu) or perhaps never should’ve come (Tristan Thompson) or probably have no business being here much longer (Coby White). Is there a twosome among the Bulls’ non-starters that you’d take over any two dudes in the Bucks’ rotation? The whole thing is a mismatch.
But it would be dead wrong not to demand better from Donovan, too. After all, he hasn’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since his first year in Oklahoma City. This almost certainly will be his fifth straight loss by first-round knockout. Two of those losses came with Russell Westbrook and Paul George on his side.
“I think that we just need to fight and stay with it,” LaVine said. “Once they give a punch, we have to respond each and every time, not just once or twice.”
Once Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother and teammate, is on the floor, the last punches have been thrown and there will be no getting off the mat for the team that’s behind. Not that Thanasis is particularly good at this thing called basketball. He’s not in the Bucks’ regular rotation. No, he checks in — as he eventually did in Games 3 and 4 — only after a thorough beating has been rendered.
The Bucks have it all, even a family member of the best player in the world who is part brother, part mascot, part death knell for the other team. The Bulls? They have another game to lose. And then maybe the champs can go pick on somebody their own size.