Cue the Bee Gees.
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.
Anyway, just how good was Chicago’s D? From ESPN Stats and Information:
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.