The Chicago Bulls refused to go away in game five. They continued to play the same brand of basketball they did the previous two days, but they were even more effective in stopping Philly's defense. There's no playing for pride now. Now they're playing to advance. They're playing for their playoff lives.
I think its amusing reading much of the analysis of the past three games. I've heard time and time again how Luol Deng put it upon himself to step up offensively and performed better. Luol Deng played nearly the same game in game five that he did in games three and four. He knocked down three very tough three point shots at the end of the game, but otherwise he was similarly ineffective in attacking the basket, and he was similarly ineffective in creating his own shot. He was 5/14 outside of his three point shots.
I've heard how the Bulls defense was smothering, and how the Bulls played with full effort and toughness etc.. Did that same thing not happen in games three and four? Did the Bulls not play smothering defense in those games? Philly was just a little tighter in game five for whatever reason.
In the end, the only game Chicago fell apart in was game two. Games three through five have played out very similarly with both teams having a similar dominant defensive personality with a mediocre offensive one. That simply leads to these type of defensive slugfests. The team that can get hot for a few minutes down the stretch wins. In game five it was Luol Deng going three for three from the three point line. In game four it was Jrue Holiday knocking down a couple threes.
The teams played the games the same, but sometimes you make shots and sometimes you miss them, and it had little to do with the toughness or desire of either team.
So we set the game stage for game six, and I think at this point, we know what we're going to get. The Bulls have made most of the adjustments that I think we can expect out of them. They've gotten John Lucas to stop pounding the ball, and they've gotten Carlos Boozer involved more on offense. Say what you want about Boozer, but in a game where the majority of players are going to shoot 30%, his offense is pretty awesome.
The 76ers meanwhile have adjusted to trap the crap out of Chicago and use their athleticism to hurl themselves at the rim in the hopes of getting bailed out by the officials which earned them a game four victory where their aggressive play yielded exceptionally uneven levels of officiating [they earned more fouls in game five as well, but they absolutely deserved the calls in that game, and I didn't feel the Bulls were short changed whereas the game four calls were not even across the board in terms what was and was not called].
So knowing nothing will change, the key is who can execute their plan better and will we have any new heroes step up?
Paging Rip Hamilton
Rip Hamilton was brought into this team under the guise that he would rise to the occasion in these types of situations. Despite age limiting his toolset some, he still has the ball handling, size, and basketball IQ to make a huge contribution for this team. They need a secondary ball handler on the perimeter, they need another shot creator outside of Lucas/Watson. Rip Hamilton can be that guy, should be that guy.
In game five, it played out that Ronnie Brewer took almost every SG minute, and I'm glad for it, because he dominated the hell out of the 76ers. Rip's defense in this series has been atrocious at times, and it's not the lack of physical explosiveness, but the mental lapses that have allowed opponents to go back door on him or get lost.
One adjustment that I know we won't see, but I would love to see is to replace Hamilton with Brewer in the starting lineup and bring Hamilton in off the bench. I think his play making would be more valuable with Lucas next to him as JL3 gets in trouble with the trap more often than CJ does, and he would then have a huge size advantage on his opponent rather than having to defend an ultra athletic guy his own size against the starters.
Doing so would put Rip in the best place to succeed and might give the Bulls a better chance to win. That said, I know such a change isn't coming. As such, we'll need Rip to step up on both ends against a much tougher opponent in a situation where his skills probably aren't as necessary.
Take em Carlos
Not many Bulls fans are huge Boozer fans. He's become somewhat of the whipping boy of the team for his lack of defense and frequently empty offense. However, Carlos Boozer is the single best offensive mismatch the Bulls have against the 76ers. They really have no one who can guard him.
In a game where the Bulls rarely get off a good look, the Boozer fadeaway jumper is a much more efficient shot than the Luol Deng or C.J. Watson contested step back long two. The Bulls need to ride Boozer for all he's worth while he's in the game, and they need Boozer to bring the full repertoire of low post moves, fadeawawys, jumpers, and face up dribble attacks to hurt the Philly defense.
Boozer has the passing ability to find his teammates on basket cuts or on the perimeter of Philly attacks him with a double team.
C.J., C.J., where art thou C.J.?
C.J. Watson has had a rough series, and it may be the extreme defensive pressure that he's had to take on all game. It's different going up against the starting unit for 28-30 minutes a night instead of the reserves for 15. He hasn't found his shot yet, but I keep thinking that C.J. Watson is simply due.
Watson's a guy who's capable of putting up huge numbers with a variety of offensive moves. He can kill a team from the outside with his jumper, hit step back mid range shots, and attack the basket. Has Philly bottled him up because they have his number or can C.J. step up one game and give the Bulls a Derrick-like performance?
I'd like to think the later, and that we still might see that big game from C.J.
Are Taj or Noah in or out?
We'll likely find out mid day, and I think it's a tough situation for both guys. They want to be out there. The Bulls could certainly use them out there [if they're healthy enough to be mobile and play their game], but it wouldn't surprise me if both guys are getting cortisone injections and other things to get on the court.
This strategy might get the Bulls to the next game and quite honestly, that's all they can think about right now, because if it doesn't there is no next game. However, it also puts them in a bind because playing a game on an ankle that's holding up simply due to injected anti-inflammatories, massive pain killers, and a bunch of tape probably significantly slows down the recovery time of the injury.
In order to have a real shot in the next round, Chicago needs these guys to be legitimately healthy not taped together and drugged up. Which puts them in a catch 22.
We probably won't find out the status of either guy until closer to game time, but both have vowed to play already.
I'm guessing this is the end of the line
Forget the media story lines of how one team is trying hard and one team isn't or how one team mentally falls apart. It's a bunch of bullshit. These teams have both played incredibly hard and tough for three straight games and have found themselves fairly evenly matched. Philly's players made their shots twice, and the Bulls made theirs once.
I expect another similar game with both teams in a defensive slugfest but with Chicago either missing two of their top four big men or playing with them at far less than 100%, I expect Chicago to simply not have the horses in this game. That said, either team can simply run away with this thing with a hot shooting night from the perimeter which we haven't seen from either team since the first two games of the series.
The Bulls clearly aren't out of it. They can win tonight and force a game seven, but it's going to be an uphill battle.