The first-round streak between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks is just getting started, but it already looks like a must-have storyline for DeMar DeRozan and company Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.
If the Bulls can pull off a victory in Game 2, they’ll return to Chicago with the separation they’ve been looking for heading into two games at the United Center. Otherwise, they will be down 2-0 and face the mammoth task of winning four of five games against the defending champions, who have beaten them five times in a row this season.
After a few practices at the Advocate Center and two nights sleeping in their own beds, the Bulls should be refreshed and confident heading into Game 2.
“We let them know we were here,” Zach LaVine said after the Bulls’ comeback offer fell through in Game 1.
But the near miss could also serve as a wake-up call for the Bucks, who played poorly on Sunday but were okay with what coach Mike Budenholzer called an “ugly victory.”
Whatever perspective you have on the opener, the importance of Game 2 should not be underestimated, and Bulls fans will no doubt be prepared to stay up late for the 8:30 p.m. start. The game will serve as the second half of a TNT doubleheader, following Game 2 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series.
TNT does a good job with its NBA shows, and Charles Barkley is the most entertaining studio analyst of his generation. But if you want a little hot sauce during your Bulls-Bucks game, remember that NBC Sports Chicago will also televise the game, with announcers Adam Amin and Stacey King on the call.
The local affiliate aired Game 1 and will air Game 3 on Friday at the United Center, the Bulls’ first home playoff game in five years. ABC will have the exclusive for Game 4 at noon Sunday.
Marc Brady, the veteran producer of the Bulls games, said the league is allowing local affiliates to broadcast some first-round games before giving exclusivity to national rights holders – TNT, ESPN and ABC – for the rest of the playoffs.
In some cities, having hometown announcers can mean having a one-sided view of the action. But Chicago isn’t just another sports city, and Brady said Bulls fans don’t expect their announcers to serve as cheerleaders.
“It’s a party,” Brady said of the TV shows. “But if you look, it’s not a circuit (television). There’s a very thin line between being informative and critical, and yet being entertaining. You’d think Adam and Stacey have been working together forever.
There’s no debating that Amin, who grew up as a Bulls fan in Addison, and King, a former Bulls player, want their team to win. Just listen to King’s reaction to an imperious LaVine dunk or Amin’s calls to DeRozan’s buzzers against the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. They make an exciting duo, to say the least.
But they’re also not shy about pointing out when the Bulls’ offense is stalling or when players are rushing or failing to recover on defense.
“It’s not a lazy review,” Brady said. “It is a measured criticism. But it’s an exciting time for Bulls fans. No one expected them to get where they did this year, so there was some disappointment (during the slump in the second half of the season). But let’s remember, these last four years, it was hard.
The Bulls are co-owners of NBC Sports Chicago, so chairman Jerry Reinsdorf deserves credit for allowing the station to hire broadcasters and analysts who don’t always paint a rosy picture.
Reinsdorf grew up in Brooklyn listening to Red Barber and Mel Allen, who were known for being objective while always wanting their team to win. Reinsdorf has always said he doesn’t like “homerism in the booth,” but allowed former White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson to do his thing because “that’s what the market wanted to”.
You couldn’t sugarcoat the many problems the Bulls faced during the rebuild. If you’ve followed them through thick and thin since their last playoff season in 2016-17, congratulations on your perseverance. I admit to turning the channel on every time they were hopelessly late and former coach Jim Boylen called a meaningless timeout a “teaching moment.” It was hard to digest.
But the Bulls changed everything with their hot start in November, making them fun to watch again. The pre-tipoff opening highlights package, produced by Brady and his team, got the party started on the right note. When the Bulls were playing well and Amin and King were cooking, it was a delicious meal.
Naturally, not all fans are in love with local broadcasts, which accompany the territory. Everyone to his own tastes. Not everyone likes hot sauce, after all.
But if you like a bit of pizzazz and informed analysis from two local broadcasters who have been fielding calls from the start, it’s comforting to know that Amin and King are there for the most important games of the season.
With success comes greater expectations, of course, and that’s where NBC Sports Chicago showed us this season how it’s done. Some teams treat their pre- and post-game broadcasts as an extension of the marketing department. But the Bulls’ shows, featuring host Jason Goff and analysts Will Perdue and Kendall Gill, were anything but infomercials.
Perdue and Gill never held back while breaking down what went wrong during some of the Bulls’ performances down the stretch. NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls Insider, KC Johnson, an old friend and former Tribune colleague, provided timely information and analysis of the game from the press line while writing on time.
Johnson was also replaced as the play-by-play man at a New Year’s Eve game in Indianapolis when Amin had to take a COVID-19 test, proving he is truly a renaissance man.
All in all it was quite a race. The Bulls have stepped up their game this season, as has the station that aired their games.