Let it be said at the end of this series, regardless of the outcome, that the Chicago Bulls did not quit. They did not throw in the towel, they did not drop the rope. They've had some terrible shooting, poor coaching decisions, bad calls go against them, horrific luck with injuries, and weaknesses exposed, but they haven't given up or stopped believing.
Hats off to Taj Gibson
Taj rolled his ankle fairly badly in the midst of game five and had to be taken back to the locker room. He later returned for the game but played with a noticeable limp the rest of the way. However, Taj Gibson was simply incredible in this game. He was credited with four blocks, but that seems like far too few. He hit the offensive glass hard, gave Chicago some scoring, and made every hustle play there was to make.
He may have ended the day with eight points and seven boards, but it would do a disservice to him to think of his stat totals relative to his contribution. If you watched this game and weren't a Taj Gibson fan when it started, you were when it ended.
No decaffeinated Brew
Ronnie Brewer hasn't had an exemplary playoffs thus far, but much like Gibson, he dominated this game defensively while finding a way to get the Bulls some offense. Brewer played the role of frenetically high energy shut down defender all night long making big plays on defense and timely contributions on offense.
Behind Brewer and Gibson, it felt like the Bulls had two guys who could guard anyone on the court, and they switched with reckless abandon and left Philly hopeless to compensate for it.
This wasn't a phantom "good defense" where the opposing team had plenty of open looks which they missed, this was a defensive clinic. The Bulls made the 76ers look like a poor man's version of the Rose-less Bulls out there on offense. The rotations were impeccable, every shot was contested, and even fast breaks were frequently chased down.
This was the Chicago bringing their full defensive arsenal at its best to a game and laying the smack down on a team that struggles to score.
Even with the great defense it was a struggle
What happens in this game if Luol Deng doesn't find his three point shot in the fourth quarter and nail three bail out threes for the Bulls with the shot clock winding down? The Bulls probably lose. They completely laid the smack down on Philly holding them to a mere 26 points in the first half.
However, the Bulls offensive woes are still equally present. The Bulls have improved considerably on not wasting the shot clock by over dribbling. Lucas's foible that cost us game three has been corrected. That said, the Bulls still aren't passing out of the double team with enough efficiency and are still struggling to find good looks at the basket.
Despite a relatively comfortable eight point win, it's easy to see how Chicago could have dropped this game [though of course it's easy to see how Philly could have dropped either of those games in Philly as well].
The NBA has to want to banish this series and burn the tapes
Seriously, is this the ugliest first round playoff series you've ever seen in your life? The collective field goal percentage in this thing when it's over is likely going to be around 38%.
Philly deserved all the calls in this game
I thought the Bulls got hosed badly by the refs in game four and the free throw disparity was huge. The free throw disparity in this game was huge as well, but Philly largely earned every one of those free throws while the Bulls didn't really have many forays to the basket that deserved a call and didn't get one.
This is just a note to say that just because a free throw disparity is large doesn't mean one team is getting jobbed.
Luol Deng stepped up
I noted it earlier, but Luol Deng knocked down three clutch threes to ice this game down the stretch. When the Bulls had the shot clock winding down and the game could have tightened up, Luol delivered. I don't have a lot of confidence in a repeat performance here, and I'm still a bit concerned about his 5/14 performance from two point range, but for one night, Luol Deng gave Chicago the offense that it needed when they needed it.
Deng was also tremendous defensively, like always, to give the Bulls a lift on that end of the court. I've come to expect the defense every night, but we'll have to hope he can continue to provide the timely shooting.
What to make of Carlos Boozer?
Boozer's 9/20 night for 19 points gave Chicago a huge lift. I mean, the Bulls need to score points and have few players capable of doing so. His five turnovers considerably offset the efficiency of his scoring though, and the Bulls are averaging a ton of turnovers when playing through Boozer throughout the series.
That said, we tend to be so much harsher on offensive oriented guys who get killed on defense, and despite only middling efficiency once turnovers are factored in, Boozer is providing the volume offense that Chicago needs to hang around in this thing. Boozer served as a bailout option by frequently getting the ball with little time left and going to his turnaround fadeaway jumper.
It's not the best shot in the world, but when the rest of the team can't break 40% to save their lives, Boozer knocking down those turnarounds at around a 40-45% clip in bailout situations is healing salve for the Bulls offense.
Defensively it's still ugly at times, and virtually every good look the 76ers got in the half court had something to do with a Boozer or Hamilton miscue defensively, but he's still providing the Bulls with plenty of offense which they aren't able to find anywhere else.
The Boganizing of Rip Hamilton has been completed
Quite honestly, I'm not sure that Hamilton's a better Bogans than Bogans was. His defense certainly isn't nearly as good, and while his playmaking is much better his shooting is much worse. In short, the Bulls haven't been able to get much benefit out of Rip Hamilton in this series, and once Rose went down, I thought Rip could step up as one of the primary play makers.
He has the size to pass out of the trap easier, the court vision to make plays, and enough handles to still create his own shot better than most of the Bulls. Hamilton may still bust out for a big game before the series is over, but time is running out for him to do so, and if he can't show the Bulls something then they'll have to wonder if they can expect anything at all out of him next season.
The pressure now mounts on Philly
Neither team can throw the ball in the ocean, but the whole world has given up on Chicago. Teams simply don't come back from 1-3 deficits, especially with their two best players out for the series. Philly will now have tremendous pressure on them to win at home in game six on Thursday, because they certainly don't want to play a road game seven on Saturday.
I think Philly will close this thing out, they have such a large advantage in attacking the basket against Chicago, and they'll grab a lucky shooting day eventually and hit 40% of their shots which should be enough to bury Chicago. While the Bulls defense has been astounding, it's difficult to see Chicago holding Philly in the low 30s in field goal percentage for two more games.
That said, I think this Bulls team absolutely believes in itself, and I wonder if three games of horrific shooting will tighten up Philly's shooters even more. While I'd predict a Bulls loss on Thursday, the game could clearly go either way as not much separates these teams.
For now I'm happy to have at least one more day of Bulls basketball.