The Chicago Bulls pulled Philly into their game twice in a row in Philadelphia, but they came up empty both times. Joakim Noah is out for game five officially and almost certainly out for the rest of the series if the Bulls manage to continue it. This team is still saying the right things, they're still playing hard, they haven't quit. Can they give Chicago one last good feeling before the season ends?
Chicago is certainly capable. The past two games came down to a couple of plays at the end. Game three could have been won if only John Lucas hadn't pounded the ball for 18 seconds on 10 straight possessions. Game four could have been won if the refs didn't make back to back ridiculous calls in favor of Philadelphia. Chicago was right in those games and so it'd be silly to sit here and say Chicago has no chance.
Of course, they have a chance to take a game. That said, I can't even imagine the psychological effect on the team at this point. The sudden end to this season couldn't be any more heartbreaking than it was and dropping three straight can only add significantly to the misery.
Also, despite forcing Philly into exactly what Chicago wanted, they still lost both games. It's going to be difficult to get Philly to play as badly as they have in a third game in a row, and the Bulls have no obvious way to increase their offensive output. They're down too many men, too much talent. We've grown to believe this team can do anything, but this team now looks exactly like we thought it woudl when missing its two best players.
In order to have a chance, Chicago will need the following:
Without Derrick Rose, this becomes a pure jump shooting team. Carlos Boozer, despite often being described as a low post player, is a jump shooter. All of our remaining perimeter players are jump shooters. Asik has no offense, and Gibson's post game isn't so amazing that we'll ride it for any length of time [though Chicago did a nice job of it in game four].
If the Bulls are to win, it will be because they finally start hitting jump shots. The problem, of course, is that once a team knows you're shooting jumpers they defend them much better. Philly is trapping and doubling our perimeter players with incredible efficiency and forcing very difficult shots.
Attack the trap
In order to break the trap, Chicago needs to do a few things.
First, they need to continue to push the ball up the court faster to give themselves more time to play out of the trap. John Lucas did a much better job of that last game which was nice to see. It's clear that it was a talking point amongst the team.
Next, they need to stick in anti-trap plays where as soon as a player leaves his zone to trap the four bulls without the ball all start in motion in such a way to attack that zone with the goal of then moving the ball prior to the trapper getting to the point guard.
This will create seams in the defense that Chicago can attack for easy points. A jump shooting team should be able to attack a trap easily and get quality jumpers if they are proactive enough to attack it before it arrives and while a passing lane still exists.
Another possibility is to run straight at the defender who is coming over to trap, by charging at him while he's running at you, he needs to immediately stop or pick up a defensive blocking foul, at which point his momentum will make it difficult for him to react laterally to your next move.
Either way, the Bulls need to find a way to stop the trap from completely killing their offense. Not an easy feat considering how well Philly runs it.
Continue the great defensive play
Chicago has done very well on the defensive end the past two games, and they need a similar effort tonight. They've kept Philly outside and have swarmed them when they've gotten inside the paint to make their lives difficult.
After a game two embarrassment, Chicago hasn't let the 76ers run roughshod over them on the fast break either. Chicago needs to continue these efforts to force Philly into difficult shots since they're not a particularly good shooting team.
Our leaders need to step up
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng need to bring it, and they need to bring it in the fourth quarter. Quite simply, they're not doing it right now. Boozer has scored plenty of points, but he hasn't done it in the fourth while Luol Deng, after being clutch much of the season, has completely disappeared.
As fans, we're sitting there hoping for C.J. Watson, John Lucas, or Taj Gibson to come in and make a difference, but that's ridiculous. Our best players need to play much bigger than they have rather than us hoping for our 6-10 guys to come in and beat the starters of a playoff team in crunch time.
Does a win have meaning?
To me it does. This team needs to show some pride even if they eventually fall to the 76ers in the first round. No one expects them to win without Rose and Noah, and they clearly are no longer the better team. Their odds of winning three in a row? Not so good. That said, getting swept out of the first round once Rose goes down?
That's an embarrassment. This team can do better than that and needs to do better than that. This is their last chance to do it. Let's see if they can pull it off and keep off-season discussions of O.J. Mayo and Ben Gordon trades at bay for at least another few days.
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