Alex Caruso was obviously feeling sore on Monday afternoon.
The Bulls guard wasn’t alone, either. Or at least he felt like he shouldn’t be.
Holding the defending NBA Champions to just 93 points in the Game 1 loss less than 24 hours earlier came with a cost. A certain level of physicality that had to be dealt out after weeks of the Bulls looking like they were incapable of playing to that level of intensity.
And as coach Billy Donovan explained, that was just “the price of admission” to playoff basketball.
“You don’t do that, you’ve got no chance,” Donovan said. “So we’ve got to build off of that, but we’ve also got to clean up the mistakes that we made. I think it’s two parts, and I think for some of our guys going through this for the first time it’s not only competing, but it’s also the competing coupled with the attention to detail and the execution on both ends of the floor.
“There’s things that we can do better, but [the physicality] is just the price of admission to get into to play. And if you don’t have that piece of it, even if we shot the ball better … like I don’t think the game for us in my opinion was lost because we didn’t shoot well. Would that have helped? Absolutely. [Milwaukee’s] been in these situations, they’ve got a lot of experience in it, been battle-tested, so they understand what they have to do.”
Which is what Wednesday’s Game 2 of the first-round playoff series could come down to. Not only playing with the same physicality that was on display by both teams Sunday at the Fiserv Forum, but also better in executing on the details.
That’s why Caruso took offense to the idea that Sunday was a poorly played game, despite both teams shooting well below their averages, as well as the Bucks turning the ball over 21 times.
“I don’t know if I agree with the statement,” Caruso said, when asked about the level of play being below standard. “I thought both teams fought, I thought both teams executed kind of what they wanted to do. Their imprint on the game. Making or missing shots doesn’t necessarily mean you played well or played bad. To hold that team to 91 points, bunch of turnovers, not a lot of teams this year did that. For them to hold us to whatever it was, , guys miss open shots, but at the end of the day the physicality of the game, the intensity of the game, I thought both teams played pretty well. Both teams played like they’re here to fight for their lives.”
That’s also why the Monday practice wasn’t about making all sorts of adjustments and reworking the rotation. According to Caruso, there was nothing new even gone over.
It was about cleaning up missed assignments and better recognizing tendencies. Also a result of playing a team that the Bulls played four times in the regular season.
“I don’t think we’re down on ourselves, I don’t think we’re taking a moral victory from it by any means,” Caruso said. “I think we’re in a good spot.”
A spot made better by this group at least showing in Game 1 that they were willing to throw their bodies around and try and go chest-to-chest with a much more experienced team. A practice they seemed allergic to most of March.
So how did that message finally get through to this group?
“It’s the playoffs,” Caruso said. “You lose, you go home. If you can’t get up for that then you shouldn’t play basketball.
“If you’ve got to hype yourself up or you’ve got to worry about bringing effort and physicality to the playoffs then you probably shouldn’t be there.”