“The interesting part, according to Lakers’ insiders, is Gasol would like to play for the Bulls.”
So with Gasol most likely out as a Laker and wanting to play in Chicago…
…what do the Bulls do?
As Smith points out, trading for Gasol would require a major restructuring of the Bulls as we know them. In Smith’s scenario, the Bulls would likely use Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton to acquire Gasol from the Lakers and then flip Joakim Noah:
You could get two players for someone like Noah to replace Noah and get a guard. Maybe Atlanta with a sign and trade for Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams; Charlotte for B.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and B.J. Mullens, Houston with some package including Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee; New Orleans for Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack and one of their lottery picks; Denver with Wilson Chandler and Andre Miller or Arron Afflalo; Minnesota with Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams and maybe Anthony Randolph or Wes Johnson, though they’d need something back like the Bulls’ No. 1 pick.
Assuming any of this is possible — pretty big assumptions — the Bulls would come out with competitive talent that could still complement Derrick Rose when he returns (be it next season or the season after).
Of course, it would also be a stab to the heart of the fans who have come to love the team that’s been fielded the past two seasons. Unfortunately, due largely to Rose’s injury and cap restraints, major changes are coming no matter what. After all, due to the cash being paid out to Rose, Deng, Noah and Carlos Boozer — around $55 million between the four of them — management will probably have to let go of a few member of the Bench Mob (possibly C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, and/or Ronnie Brewer).
If Rose was healthy, management would probably be willing to roll the dice on this current group. With Rose out for many months to come, they may choose to slice payroll and start preparing for the next team built around their MVP.
And trading for Gasol might be step one of that plan.
As empty as the United Center will be during the remainder of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
That’s how Bulls fans everywhere feel after last night’s gut-wrenching loss the Philadelphia 76ers.
Empty like championship promise unfulfilled.
That’s how the Bulls must feel right now.
History was amended last night.
The Sixers became the fifth eight seed to win a first-round series against a one seed, joining the 2010-11 Memphis Grizzlies, the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors, the 1998-99 New York Knicks and 1993-94 Denver Nuggets.
The Bulls are the flip side of that coin. Their defeat won’t be as infamous as those other first-round upsets if only because they lost their best player in Game 1 and their best defender/rebounder/energizer in Game 3.
That’s not to take anything away from Philly…but the Bulls were handicapped in this series.
Yet they still almost brought the series back to Chicago for a Game 7.
The defense was there, holding the Sixers to 39.7 percent shooting and limiting them to 31 points in the second half. Chicago’s D got stronger as the game progressed. As ESPN Stats and Information pointed out, the Sixers shot 55.6 percent in the first quarter, 42.9 percent in the second, 36.8 percent in the third and 27.3 percent in the fourth.
The Bulls also rebounded the hell out of the ball, winning the battle of the boards 56-33, including a 15-5 edge on the offensive glass. Chicago outscored Philly 29-5 on second-chance points.
This Bulls team has — make that had — a lot of fight in it. Despite all the injuries that plagued them this season, they never gave up, never stopped clawing and scraping their way toward a singular goal.
Unfortunately, all their heart, that defense, the rebounding, none of it allowed them to overcome their offensive woes. The Bulls shot 37.5 percent and missed 11 of their 13 three-point field goal attempts. They committed 14 turnovers for 18 points going the other way.
Carlos Boozer is going to take a lot of heat for his performance — 3 points on 1-for-11 shooting — despite playing strong the previous three games (18/10, 23/11, 19/13). But Boozer wasn’t the only problem. C.J. Watson went 2-for-11 from the field and 1-for-4 from beyond the arc. Luol Deng went 8-for-16 but missed all five of this three-point attempts. Ronnie Brewer didn’t score a point in 11 minutes off the bench. Kyle Korver logged only five minutes and didn’t attempt a shot. Taj Gibson was strong from the line (6-for-7) but weak from the field (4-for-10).
Still, the Bulls managed to come back from a 12-point third quarter deficit and built a three-point lead (78-75) with 25 seconds left off a nifty pick-and-roll pass-and-dunk play from Watson to Omer Asik.
Asik, by the way, played the game of his life-to-date. His stats look merely solid — 10 points, 9 boards, 2 blocked shots, 3-for-6 from the field, 4-for-7 from the line — but he played every minute of the second half and his presence in the middle helped force the Sixers into long jumper after long jumper and losts of misses in the paint (as you can see from the shot chart). Exhausted, hair drenched like he just got out of the shower, Asik did almost everything that he could have possibly done to help the Bulls pull out a win.
Except hit two free throws.
Watson finished the game with 10 assists and no turnovers but made one of the worst end-game decisions I have ever seen. After Thaddeus Young hit a layup to pull the Sixers to within a point (78-77) with 12.8 seconds left, the Bulls got the ball to Watson who pushed it across halfcourt while Jrue Holiday tried to foul him (officials either missed it or chose not to call the foul). With Asik cutting to the hoop, Watson made the pass.
Said Watson: ”I thought he had a clear dunk. Spencer Hawes came up, I’d been giving it to O the whole night and he’s been dunking it so I thought why not give it to him again? I thought it was a flagrant, but it didn’t go that way.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “I’ve got to get more clarity on what a flagrant foul is. Because I don’t understand that. But you know, sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
The NBA rule book isn’t terribly specific about what exactly constitutes a flagrant foul:
A flagrant foul-penalty (1) is unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.
A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.
So, basically, it always comes down to a judgement call by the officials. Hawes’ foul sure looked like unnecessary contact to me. But it didn’t look that way to the refs, which, in the end, is all that mattered.
The bigger question was: Why did C.J. throw that pass.
There were seven seconds left. Asik shot 45.6 percent from the line during the regular season. He was 2-for-10 from the line in Games 1 through 5. And although he was 4-for-5 from the field before stepping up to the charity stripe for those final two foul shots, Watson — who shot 80.8 percent from the line during the season and was 12-for-16 in the playoffs — should have held onto the ball. Should have forced the Sixers to foul him.
Instead, he let instinct overrule intellect and passed to Asik, who missed both foul shots.
Said Thibs: ”It’s a bang-bang play. I thought there might have been a foul in the backcourt with Holliday. They were trying to take the foul, obviously they didn’t see it that way. You’re running the clock down, you can dribble the clock out, they have to foul. They’re out of timeouts, so they have to go the length of the court. It didn’t happen. Hopefully We learn from that. But sometimes that’s what happens in a game.”
As long as we’re questioning C.J.’s decision to let Asik’s free throw shooting potentially decide the game, we might as well ask why the Bulls let Andre Iguodala take the basketball coast-to-coast before being fouled by Asik at the opposite rim. As Hubie Brown would tell you, the defense must force the ball-handler to give up the basketball in situations like that. It’s Basketball 101. But the Bulls did not.
Iguodala had a problem at the line. A so-so free throw shooter on the best of nights, he averaged only 62 percent for the season. In close games, though — an atrocity. NBA.com tells us that in the final three minutes of games within five points, this season Iguodala had hit two free throws. Total. All season. Out of nine tries. That’s 22 percent.
But, to his credit, with the series at stake, Iggy did what Omer could not. He hit ‘em both. Nothing but net.
Actually, it was part of a reversing trend, as Iguodala was 9-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter during this series. As Abbott also noted, Iggy had changed up his foul shooting technique:
In Iguodala’s head, the experience of stepping to the line has become all new. It came from something his teammate Tony Battie recommended a couple of weeks ago: Think about your kids.
Iguodala has been imagining talking to his son, 5-year-old Andre II. It relaxes him, makes the whole thing feel rote, just like in practice. And that works.
“It’s like I’m teaching him how to shoot free throws,” explains Iguodala. “And when you’re teaching your son to shoot free throws you can’t miss. You look kind of crazy.”
Memo to Omer Asik: Get married, have a son, teach him to shoot free throws.
All kidding aside, this loss hurts and it hurts badly. The Bulls had the best record in the league. They spent the entire season overcoming adversity before finally succumbing to it. Yes, it’s probably true that losing was inevitable from the moment Rose tore his ACL, but this team overcame so much that fans could hardly be blamed for believing that the Rose-less (and Noah-less) Bulls could at least advance by the Sixers.
Said Deng: ”It felt like everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened. “Every time something happened, we kept making up for it. We really made people believe.”
That may have made this final loss even harder.
And now what?
There will likely be personnel adjustments. Nothing is static in the NBA. Even teams that win a championship mix up their rosters. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks. So it’s safe to say one or more members of this team won’t be wearing a Bulls uniform next season.
Changes are coming. No doubt about it. Now the waiting begins.
Sixers lead series 3-2 Bulls won Game Five 77-69
Top Performers: Bulls:Luol Deng (24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists) Sixers: Spencer Hawes (11 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Jrue Holiday (16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists)
The Bulls survived elimination once, but they’ll have to do it twice more if they want to make it to the second round.
The Bulls got the win, but it is still their back up against the wall, down 3-2 and heading back to Philadelphia. At the same time though, the Sixers have a lot of pressure as well. Philadelphia is going to want to win tonight, rather than go back to Chicago for game seven. A game seven with the Chicago crowd behind the Bulls, and a then-confident Bulls team that won two games in a row, would be a tough win for many teams in the playoffs, even with the injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Last game was more like the Chicago Bulls we watched all season. They kept the score low, and won because of their defense. That’s how they’re going to have to do it without Rose, and possibly Noah, tonight. The Sixers shot just 32.1 percent from the field and 2-11 from deep.
The Bulls shot 5-10 from deep, which helped make up for a terrible 4-11 from the free throw line. If one thing can end Chicago’s season (other than losing Rose and Jo) it is going to be their free throws. The Bulls got to the line just 11 times, and shot 36.4 percent when they were there. Philly got to the line 24 times and shot 70.8 percent. So the Sixers are getting to the line a lot more, and shooting a much better percentage. Free throw shooting was a problem for the Bulls all season, but now with less offensive firepower, they need to convert from the line.
The best part of the game was seeing Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer step up. The Bulls have been waiting all series for these two to get it together. Boozington has been playing well lately, averaging 20.0 points and 11.3 rebounds over his last three games. Boozer is finally that low post fade-away mid-range jump shooter the Bulls have been looking for.
And Deng had a monster game, finally outplaying Andre Iguodala. Going into game five, Lu was averaging just 10.25 points per contest (Iguodala was averaging the same point total, but the Sixers don’t need him to carry the same scoring load). Deng hit 4-5 from deep and scored 24 points, while filling up the rest of the stat sheet as well (eight rebounds, one assist, two steals, two blocks)
The Bulls needed everything they could get from Boozer and Deng, because Rip Hamilton (6 points, 3-9 field goals) and C.J. Watson (5 points, 2-10 field goals) were disappointing again. After averaging 15.3 points per game in the first three games of the series, Rip has lost his touch. He’s averaging 6.5 over his last two. Rip needs to turn it around, because otherwise they might as well bring back Keith Bogans (just kidding. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t bring him back!).
Luckily for the Bulls, Ronnie Brewer came in and helped the Bulls win by doing everything (eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block) other than scoring big (six points, 3-7 shooting). After falling out of the rotation in game three, Brewer probably earned himself a good amount of minutes tonight.
But Ronnie Brewer isn’t going to solve the Bulls scoring problems. They need Watson, Rip, Kyle Korver or John Lucas to step up and help Boozer and Deng.
Scoring is hard for the Bulls, but holding the Sixers to 69 points at home will be even harder.
“You know how we feel. We feel like we let two get away in Philadelphia,” Boozer said. “We thought that we played well enough to win, but we just came up a little short.”
The Bulls don’t have the luxury of coming up short again, because that will mean the end of their season, and a longer than expected off-season.
The Bulls played with real “win or go home” desperation last night. It was ugly…but it kept them alive and in the playoffs for at least one more game.
Credit the defense for holding the Sixers to 69 points on 25-for-78 from the field (32.1 percent) and 2-for-11 on threes (18.2 percent). It also didn’t hurt that Philly missed seven of 24 free throw attempts.
In all, the Bulls blocked 11 shots and forced 14 turnovers, and a lot of that defensive energy came from Taj Gibson. Gibson’s offense was held down compared to his Game 4 outburst, but he tied a career-high by blocking 4 shots while contributing 8 points, 7 boards, and lots of energy/inspiration.
The only downside was that Gibson sprained his ankle in the third quarter. He returned in the fourth, but he is likely to be either impaired or unavailable for Game 6. Assuming he doesn’t get suspended for his dust up with Elton Brand in which elbows were thrown:
Said John Lucas: “The scuffle was nothing too crazy. We were just letting them know, we’re not going nowhere, we’re right here, you’re going to have to go through us. There was none of that bullying and trying to show how tough we are. Taj did exactly what he was supposed to do. It was nothing intentional. It was just two teams going to battle.”
Let’s hope the league office agrees with Lucas’ assessment.
The NBA began using the shot clock in the 1954-55 season. only once has the 76ers franchise scored fewer in a postseason game… Philadelphia scored just 68 points in a loss to the Magic in 1999, but outside of that Tuesday was the worst postseason offensive output in franchise history.
As great as Chicago’s defense was, though, the offense was another story altogether. It was very nearly a horror story. The Bulls shot only 41.5 percent and earned a mere 11 free throw attempts…converting only four of their foul shots. They got to the rim 26 times but connected on only 13 of their attempts. The Bulls were also a miserable 7-for-23 from 16-23 feet.
Offensively, the team was saved by Carlos Boozer (19 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists) and especially Luol Deng (24 points, 10-for-19, 8 rebounds). Deng was a blistering 4-for-5 from three-point range. Lu knocked down three of those triples in the fourth quarter during possessions when the Bulls offense looked like it was going to come up with nothing. The biggest of those threes came 1:33 left and ended up being the nail in Philly’s Game 5 coffin.
The Bulls needed Deng to play like an All-Star. And he did for one game at least.
Said Deng: ”I felt like I didn’t shoot the ball enough [in Games 2-4]. Tonight, I was more aggressive. Sometimes when having Derrick out, we’re just playing a little differently. When Derrick is in the game, I’m less aggressive. And tonight, I just wanted to be more aggressive from the start.”
There were some negative trends too. The Bulls were outscored 21-20 in the fourth, which means they now have been outscored in every fourth quarter of the series. The rebounding battle ended in a 49-49 tie, with the Sixers holding an 11-8 edge in offensive boards. During the season, Chicago won with a combination of defense and rebounding. The defense has been there, the rebounding has not. It’s a red flag.
Deng’s threes were also a red flag. The Bulls needed all three of them in the fourth quarter. Lu repeatedly beating the buzzer with contested threes isn’t something the team can count on consistently, especially not on the road in Philadelphia on Thursday. When Philly’s defense turns up the pressure in the fourth quarter, the Bulls cannot seem to generate good looks. Or even average looks.
You can check out the shot chart. Philly’s D is either forcing long jumpers or intimidating the Bulls at the rim. In the fourth quarter last night, Chicago went 1-for-6 in the paint.
It’s hard to imagine the Bulls can do much more offensively without Rose, with a hobbled Gibson (assuming he’s not suspended or too injured) Joakim Noah (assuming he returns for Game 6), and with Deng still suffering from that torn wrist ligament. Which means the Bulls have to maintain the same defensive intensity they showed in Game 5 and they absolutely must get back to rebounding the basketball the way they did during the regular season. If they don’t, Game 6 may be the end of their season.
Game 4: Sixers win 89-82 Sixers lead series 3-1
Top Performers Sixers: Spencer Hawes (22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Jrue Holiday (20 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) Bulls: Carlos Boozer (23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) and CJ Watson (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists)
The Bulls-Sixers series could end in five games tonight in Chicago. A lot of people thought it would end in five, myself included. But I, like many others, thought the Bulls would be the team coming out on top. Injuries have flipped the script on the Bulls, this series and the playoffs. But Chicago still has a chance.
I thought the Bulls were going to win this series in five games, but I also didn’t think that Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah would get injured or that the basketball gods were mad at Chicago. Even after the Rose injury I thought the Bulls would have enough to get through Philly. That doesn’t seem likely now. What a turn of events this series has become.
Philly has a chance to close out the series in the United Center, in front of fans that believed their team had a shot to go all the way.
Game four was close again, but the Bulls came up short in crunch time. They don’t have a go-to scorer at the end of games, and it’s hurt them in games three and four. They aren’t going to magically have one in game five either, so the Bulls may be in the same position.
Carlos Boozer stepped up, to a degree. He was the game’s leading scorer, with 23 points. He went just 11-24 from the field though, and got to the line only once. He also had five turnovers, for the second game in a row, including one very costly one. With 48 seconds left and the Bulls down just four, Boozer’s left hand forgot how to dribble, and the ball, and probably the Bulls’ chances in this series, were gone.
Boozer wasn’t happy about the officials either, but the Bulls aren’t the type of team to blame the refs. There were some questionable calls, but there always are. And the Bulls are an extremely physical team on the inside, and have gotten away with a lot of contact throughout the year. It caught up with them at a bad time. Chicago didn’t lose that game because of the officiating; they lost because their two best players are watching instead of playing.
And that fact isn’t changing tonight. The Bulls should get a boost, going back home to a (hopefully) pumped-up and supportive crowd.
Something the Bulls can build on is C.J. Watson’s second half. Watson hadn’t scored for six quarters, before he exploded for 17 points in the second half. Watson also gave up two killer three pointers to Jrue Holiday though, so that’s the part Chicago shouldn’t build off.
Rip Hamilton took a step back, scoring just seven points on 3-9 shooting. Rip only played 24 minutes. He wasn’t playing great, but Ronnie Brewer isn’t a scorer and Kyle Korver doesn’t bring as much to the table. Brewer was scoreless in his 17 minutes, while Korver scored five points in 22 minutes.
What can the Bulls do without their best players? Hopefully they don’t roll over. Chicago always talked about their heart and hustle, and it would be wrong to see this team go down any other way than grinding. Grinding just might not be enough.
This wasn’t the way this Bulls season was supposed to end—in the first round, to an eight seed. But that’s the way things go sometimes. Hopefully it won’t end tonight.
Numbers that must be noted: If the Bulls lose, they’ll be just the fifth number one seed to lose to an eight seed. And the other inevitable…only eight teams have come from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven game series.
Even without Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (sprained ankle), the Bulls had enough to win yesterday.
But they didn’t.
The defense did its job, for the most part, limiting the Sixers to 39 percent shooting from the field and forcing them to miss 14 of their 19 three-point attempts. Of course, two of Philly’s five three-point conversions were knocked down in cold-blooded fashion by a previously ice-cold Jrue Holiday during back-to-back crunch time possessions that turned a one-point Bulls deficit into a seven-point hole with 3:33 left in the game.
Chicago’s D also failed to contain Spencer Hawes, who scored 22 points on only 11 shots to go with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Had the Bulls held Hawes to his average of 9.6 PPG, they might have won.
The Bulls also might have won if they’d managed to defend without fouling. Philly enjoyed a 31-14 disparity in free throw attempts that made a pretty sizable difference in a seven-point loss.
Said Carlos Boozer: ”It’s crazy. I thought we were driving. I thought Luol [Deng] was driving almost every time he got the ball. He was getting contact on a lot of his shots. I thought C.J. [Watson] was driving the ball. There was one play at the end of the game [when] he got hit right in the face. I saw the whole play and he didn’t get that call.”
Nobody caught a stronger whiff of home cooking than Boozer, who didn’t earn a whistle while (as the replays confirmed) being clearly fouled on a dunk attempt with 1:10 to go. On the other end, Holiday was awarded two free throws after minimal contact, converting both to put the Sixers up 84-80 with 51 seconds to go.
Said Boozer: ”It was a great pocket pass by C.J. [Watson]. I was trying to go to the hole strong. Obviously, I wanted to get a layup or a dunk. Thought I had some contact, I thought I got fouled to be quite frank about it, but [considering] the fouls they were calling on the other side, I thought that call could have been made. They didn’t call it and we just kept playing on.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “It was a key sequence. It kind of went against us.”
No excuses though.
Said Boozer: ”Listen, we’re not going to sit here and blame the referees for our loss. It was our fault we lost the game. We gave up 25 points in the fourth quarter. There were too many points in the fourth quarter. We didn’t lose the game because of the refs, but the [31-14 free throw] discrepancy was huge. And I thought we were being pretty aggressive, we got in the penalty early, but we didn’t get as many free throws as they did. That’s tough, but at the same time that’s not why we lost. We lost because we didn’t contain their guards in the fourth quarter.”
Other reasons the Bulls lost:
Rebounding. The Bulls only won the rebounding battle by two boards (48-46) and had a 12-11 deficit in offensive rebounds. That’s where Noah’s absence was most telling.
Points off turnovers. The Bulls gave up 24 points off 14 turnovers, versus 18 and 9 for the Sixers.
Too many jumpers. Chicago attempted 40 shots from 16 feet and beyond versus only 21 at the rim. Of course, as Boozer noted, the Bulls’ aggressive drives weren’t being rewarded by many foul calls, which might explain why they converted only 11 of their 21 attempts (52.7 percent) at the hoop.
Continuing fourth quarter woes. The Bulls were outscored 25-19 in the final 12 minutes. According to Team Rankings, the Bulls led the league in average fourth quarter margin (+2.1) during the regular season while Philly ranked 20th (-0.2). Yet here’s how fourth quarter scoring has gone in this series:
So the Bulls are -24 in the fourth quarter over four games.
Now, in Game 1, the Bulls were up by 20 points with just over four minutes to go before letting up. So it’s been Games 2-4 where the fourth quarter scoring discrepancy has been a big issue. Not coincidentally, those are the games Rose has missed after tearing his ACL in Game 1.
The Bulls aren’t just missing Rose on clutch shots either. They miss his ability to draw Philly’s defenders and create shots for his teammates. Without somebody to break down the Sixers’ defense, open looks have been nearly impossible to find in the fourth quarter. Everything is a mighty struggle…and the Bulls have been succumbing late when they used to regularly outperform other teams.
So what’s the answer?
Said Thibs: ”We have to start better and we have to finish better. The challenge is in the playoffs 48 minutes, that’s what we have to do. In the end, it comes down to will to make the play. Whatever’s necessary. Whether it’s three stops in a row, three scores in a row, whatever you may need, that’s what you have to get done. And I think that comes down to your mental toughness, your physical toughness, and the one thing about our team [is] I think we have great character. And I think the fight will be there.”
Oh, the fight will be there, no doubt. But will it matter?
Look, losing Rose and Noah has critically weakened the Bulls. Take away an MVP-type player in addition to a team’s best defender/rebounder/energizer, and that team is going to be at a disadvantage. Toss in lingering injuries (to Deng’s wrist) and the constant mental fatigue to play at 100 percent every night, and you have to wonder how much the Bulls really have in the tank. And the Sixers are like sharks who smell blood in the water.
Game Three: Sixers win 79-74
Top Performers: Sixers: Spencer Hawes (21 points, nine rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) Bulls: Carlos Boozer (18 points, ten rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (17 points, six rebounds, seven assists)
This isn’t how the Bulls playoffs were supposed to go. Derrick Rose was supposed to be at his healthiest and Chicago was going to catch fire. That was true for most of game one—until everything came crashing down.
Now Joakim Noah went out as well, with a “don’t watch the replay because it’s so gross” ankle injury. Then proceeded to try to come back and play, but just looked like a wounded animal. And the Sixers attacked him like one until Tom Thibodeau sat Noah down for the game.
Now the Bulls starting center will be out, in addition to their starting point guard. Things are looking grim in Chicago. Philadelphia is playing well and the Bulls are falling to injuries.
Chicago’s defense was there in game three, holding the Sixers to 34.2 percent shooting from the field, 7.1 percent from deep and just 79 points. Chicago also won the rebounding battle (49-43) and had nine more assists. The Bulls slowed down the Sixers, allowing just ten fast break points, while putting up 17 of their own. They made many of the adjustments from game two, but those parts of the game only help so much.
The Bulls couldn’t find any offense when they needed to. They shot just 37.3 percent themselves and allowed Philly to double them up in the fourth (28 points to 14). And while Philly was getting to the line in the fourth, and winning the game from there, the Bulls seemed allergic to it. The only guy who got there was Rip Hamilton, who went 8-12, but missed two in a row in the fourth which didn’t help.
As a team Philly made 26 free throws, while shooting 78.8 from there. The Bulls took 23 free throws and only made 14 of them (60.9 percent). Their poor free throw shooting is finally coming back to bite them.
The biggest thing about the playoffs is adjustments. Teams learn from wins and losses and make changes. But the adjustments Chicago has to make are inserting new guys into the starting line-up. First it was C.J. Watson in for Rose. Now it’s Asik for Noah. It’s hard to overcome those injuries…maybe impossible.
Losing Rose was the worst thing that could happen to the Bulls. Losing Noah is probably the second worse thing (not counting losing Brian Scalabrine). But the Bulls have to just carry on.
Everybody for Chicago had something missing in Friday night’s game. Carlos Boozer finally showed up, scoring 18 points (matching his total from the first two games combined) and grabbing ten rebounds. But Boozington also had 5 turnovers.
Rip got to the line well and filled up the stat sheet nicely (17 points, six rebounds, seven assists), but went just 4-15 from the field.
Luol Deng only took seven shots in his 37 minutes of action. He finished with five points. Deng was an All-Star this year, but has scored just 8 points and 5 points in the two games since Derrick Rose has been out. Andre Iguodala is a good defender, but Deng has to take some of the scoring load. So far he hasn’t been doing that. Lu is making more than $12 million this season. He has to score more than single digits.
C.J. Watson scored zero points, and the other point guard option, John Lucas, went 4-12 from the field.
Where is the offense for Chicago? The Sixers are a very good defense, but the Bulls don’t have any creators right now.
The Bulls can hold Philly to 79 points all they want, but if they can’t score, they aren’t going to win this playoff series.
Game Two: Sixers won 109-92
Top Performers: Sixers: Jrue Holiday (26 points, six assists), Evan Turner (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Lou Williams (20 points, six assists) Bulls: Joakim Noah (21 points, 10-11 from the field, eight rebounds, five assists) and John Lucas (15 points, four assists)
A lot of adjustments are made after game one. The Bulls biggest adjustment was playing without Derrick Rose for the rest of the playoffs. The Sixers made the right adjustments and blew Chicago out. Now it is the Bulls turn to make the right changes.
The only Bulls players who actually showed up in game two were Joakim Noah and John Lucas. Noah scored 21 points on 10-11 shooting, and added eight rebounds and five assists. JL3 scored 15 points (7-12 shooting) off the bench and dished four assists.
The rest of the starters, other than Noah, shot 15-43 from the field, or 34.9 percent. The bench, which usually builds leads, didn’t help much either. The only bench player with a positive plus/minus was Kyle Korver with a +3. Korver was actually the only player on the team with a positive plus/minus.
“We trust the system,” Luol Deng said. “It’s not one guy who’s going to try to come out and take the load by himself. We want to do it as a team. All year, we always believed that for us to win games, (we have) to rely on our defense.”
Well that didn’t work. Defense was how the Bulls won all year. It was how they survived, and flourished to a degree, without Derrick Rose. It was supposed to be how they were going to survive in the playoffs.
But game one of the no-Rose experiment didn’t show how good they are at defense. Philly shot 59.0 percent from the field and 41.7 from deep. The Sixers scored 109 points, which was tied for the second most they gave up all season.
The Bulls weren’t even hustling back on defense, as they gave up 25 fast break points (the Bulls had just eight fast break points of their own). And Chicago got pushed around inside, allowing 52 points in the paint, after giving up just 34 in game one.
The only two players with blocks were Luol Deng and Kyle Korver with two each (Korver made just two field goals, so it was nice to see him fill up the stat sheet elsewhere). None for Noah, none for Taj Gibson and none for Omer Asik. And Chicago had just three steals as a team.
The Sixers made two more free throws than the Bulls, while shooting three less (Chicago was 10-18 and the Sixers were 12-15). This wasn’t a big deal, because the Bulls lost by 17, but in close games, this could come back to haunt Chicago.
It didn’t look like a whole lot of effort coming from the Bulls, even though they were at home and had a lot to prove to the basketball world. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
One good thing for Chicago was that they had just eight turnovers (The Bulls had 18 turnovers in game one). Philadelphia, a team known for holding onto the ball, had nine team turnovers. The Sixers were first in turnover percentage in the regular season (.109). Chicago was eighth (.132). If the Bulls can hold onto the ball, it will go a long way, because they need every offensive possession without Rose and against a tough Philly defense.
The only must-win games are when you are facing elimination. But the Bulls really need this one. They got blown out in their first game without Derrick Rose, and don’t want to be down 2-1 in the series with game four again on the road.
The Bulls were 24-9 on the road in the regular season, the best road record in the league. Philly was 19-14 in the Wells Fargo Center, a solid home record.
“Defense and rebounding, that’s the whole key,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The big thing was they got into the open floor. They got easy baskets. You get easy baskets early in the game, you’re going to get confidence. When a team gets confidence, they’re much harder to shut down.”
Thibs surely used the two full days between games to watch film and the Bulls should make the necessary adjustments tonight. But Thibs can only do so much. The Bulls have to be hungry. Something they were all season, but was missing in game two.
Feel free to use the comments section as an open game-thread. And follow us on Twitter for live-tweets during the game.
The Bulls came out fired up. Led by as many as 10 points. Were up 55-47 at the half.
But I was worried anyway.
What worried me wasn’t just that the 76ers were hanging around in the face of an energized onslaught by the Bulls. It was that they were faster to a two loose balls in the first quarter.
There are certain elements of the game I use to measure which team wants the game more. Rebounding. Defense. Points in the paint. And who comes up with those 50/50 balls. It’s not all that scientific, but it usually works.
See, rebounding isn’t just about height and body position, it’s also about sheer desire and the will to take the basketball away from the other guys. Ditto for defense. Points in the paint usually indicate which team was aggressively attacking the hoop. And beating opponents to loose balls is all focus and effort.
So with 10:33 left in the second quarter when the Sixers out-hustled the Bulls to a loose ball and converted it into an Andrea Iguodala dunk at the other end of the court, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I knew that, with the specter of Rose’s injury haunting the United Center, nothing less than an all-out effort was going to allow the Bulls to win the game. Letting Philly recover a 50/50 ball and get a dunk off it was a bad sign.
So how about those other indicators of who wants it more?
The Sixers won the rebounding battle 38-32 and limited the Bulls to only 10 offensive boards.
Philly also shredded the vaunted Chicago D with a 36-point third quarter explosion (more on that below) and would go on to shoot 59 percent for the game and finish with an Offensive Efficiency of 123.9.
The Sixers also owned the paint. They racked up 25 fast break points and outscored the Bulls 52-32 in the colored rectangle. They shot 18-for-25 (72 percent) at the rim…a number that included six dunks and 12 layups. Furthermore, they were 4-for-5 (80 percent) from 3-9 feet and 9-for-12 (75 percent) from 10-15 feet. Mind you, this is a team that (as I pointed out in my series preview) usually lives and dies on long two-pointers. But last night they got whatever they wanted from wherever they wanted it against a Bulls defense that seemed a step slow most of the night.
As Joakim Noah put it: ”It was a disappointing effort overall. We didn’t play well defensively, we didn’t play well offensively. We got our (butts) kicked.”
Of course, Noah (21 points, 10-for-11, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) was the only Bulls starter who came to play last night. The other four members of the starting lineup combined to shoot 15-for-43. Rip Hamilton (-16), Luol Deng (-15) and C.J. Watson (-13) were particularly bad, and Carlos Boozer had a meaningless single-single (9 points, 5 boards).
Outside of John Lucas, who scored 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting, the Bench Mob wasn’t a factor either.
Said Deng: ”We gotta play better defense. Offense is not who we are. We’ve got to take pride in our defense and step it up. We got a lot of different guys who can score, but this is the playoffs. Defensively we’ve got to be better. You’ve got to take the challenge, each individual.”
He’s not wrong. Not many teams light these Bulls up for nearly 60 percent shooting. In fact…nobody does. Here’s what ESPN Stats and Information had to say on the subject:
Philadelphia shot 59 percent from the field, the highest percentage the Bulls have allowed in a regular or postseason game since Tom Thibodeau took over in 2010-11. The last time Chicago allowed an opponent to shoot better than 59 percent in the playoffs came back on April 29, 1998, when the Michael Jordan-led Bulls won despite allowing the Nets to shoot 60 percent.
And there you have it. We witnessed what may have been the worst defensive performance in the Thibodeau era.
And as for that horrific third quarter, well, here’s more form ESPN Stats and Information:
The Sixers ran the Bulls off the court in the third quarter, outscoring them 36-14, including 11-0 on fast-break points. Philly also shot 68.2 percent from the field (to the Bulls’ 25 percent) and outrebounded them 14-5. The 22-point margin is the most the 76ers have outscored an opponent by in any playoff quarter in the last 15 seasons.
It was a disgrace how easily some of the Sixers were scoring. Jrue Holiday scored a postseason career-high 26 points on 11-for-15 from the field. Lou Williams added 20 on 8-for-13 shooting. And Evan Turner was 8-for-15 for his 19 points.
For some perspective, Dwyane Wade averaged 46 percent shooting in four games against the Bulls this season. Ditto for Carmelo Anthony. In his final two games against the Bulls this season, LeBron James went 11-for-24 and 8-for-18. The Bulls held Dirk Nowitzki to 6-for-15 shooting back on April 21. And Kobe Bryant went 11-for-23 against the Bulls on Christmas day.
I could go on but you must see my point. If the Bulls can hold down the league’s biggest stars, they shouldn’t be getting lit up by Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and Evan Turner.
Said Thibs: ”The bottom line is the fight. We’ve got to fight.”
But let’s not get caught up in this one loss. The Bulls played badly. No question about it. But this team has a lot of heart and has bounced back from adversity and sub-par efforts so many times the past two years I wouldn’t suggest betting against them coming back with a strong effort in Game 3.
Said Noah: ”It’s different (without Rose). There’s no excuses, though. We know we can play better. It’s disappointing, but you know what? We live to fight another day. There’s a lot of basketball to play.”
Game One: Bulls won 103-91
Top Performers: Bulls: Richard Hamilton (19 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks) 76ers: Elton Brand (19 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) and Thaddeus Young (13 points, four rebounds)
The final score of game one didn’t really matter. The only thing that mattered was the sight of Derrick Rose on the ground, wincing in pain. This lockout shortened season never agreed with Derrick. He fought through a bunch of injuries, and now his season—and possibly some of the next one—is lost to one. When Derrick limped off the court, there is a chance the Bulls title hopes left with him.
But the playoffs will continue without Rose, and no one on the Bulls is going to roll over. The task was already tall for the Bulls, but it just got a lot tougher.
I’d love to be optimistic and say the Bulls can still win the title. That they’re 18-7 without Rose this season and that they’ve beaten top teams like the Heat, Celtics (twice), Magic and Hawks without their starting point guard…but it just doesn’t feel like they can win a title now. They had a chance with a healthy Rose. It probably wasn’t going to happen with a hobbled Rose. Now with no Rose at all, things don’t look bright.
But the Bulls did basically beat the Heat twice without Rose (once without Rose, and once when Rose went 1-13 for two points and recorded a minus-27 plus/minus).
Chicago was without Rose for 25 games, and they won with defense, rebounding and hustle. They still have all those things. They also have home-court advantage, and a United Center crowd that will be more behind them than ever.
When the Bulls beat the Sixers without Rose during the regular season, they used those three things to get the win (Rip Hamilton also missed this game). Chicago out-rebounded Philly by 14, including a 17-9 offensive rebounding margin. They held the Sixers to 41.8 percent shooting and just 80 points.
C.J. Watson scored 20 points filling in for Rose, and Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver each scored eleven off the bench.
The Bulls defense won’t have to change—it’s their offense that needs to shift. Rose is great at creating shots; now the Bulls will have to use ball movement to get open shots. Looks are going to be hard to come by in the playoffs, especially against a good defensive team like the Sixers.
John Lucas III (zero minutes in game one) and Watson (four points in eleven minutes) are going to have to play better (or play at all in JL3’s case). At least Lucas definitely has the confidence to step into any role, even if it is on the playoff stage.
Carlos Boozer is going to have to prove the naysayers wrong, and come up big in a playoff game. Boozington was solid in game one, scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists, but he will have to take on more of the scoring load the rest of the way.
Rip Hamilton needs to do what he did in game one, as does Luol Deng. Rip scored a super-efficient 19 points (6-7 from the field, 1-1 from three, 6-6 from the line), while Deng scored 17 points on 8-14 shooting.
Joakim Noah had a big game, with 12 points and 13 rebounds, and will need to replicate that. Noah’s hustle and enthusiasm can propel the Bulls through some rough patches. Kyle Korver, who scored eleven off the bench in game one, will also have to take a bigger scoring role.
But the most important thing for Chicago now is to make sure their defense is at its peak. The Bulls held Philly to 39.8 percent from the field and 1-9 from three. Andre Iguodala (3-11, eleven points) and Lou Williams (1-6, nine points) never got it going. The entire team needs to do their best to make sure it stays that way.
If there is one team that can overcome losing its best player, it’s the Bulls. It just doesn’t seem like there is one team that can do that and still go on to win the title.
The road to the Finals was always steep…now without Rose there are a lot more potholes and no guardrails. It’s possible, just unlikely. But don’t tell that to anyone on the Bulls roster, because they won’t care. Chicago will be hungry tonight, trying to prove they can win without Rose in the playoffs, just like the regular season.