Bulls prepare for Game 4 and possible sweep


Apr 22

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It’s not often a coach breaks a major story on an off day between playoff games with his team ahead three games to none, as the Bulls are with Game 4 in Indianapolis Saturday.

But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stunned everyone before practice Friday with this revelation about Derrick Rose.

“He is human,” Thibodeau said to gasps from assembled reporters.

Well, not exactly gasps, but Rose does defy explanation and description at times with yet another game saving play Thursday, his driving, left handed layup to provide the winning basket in the (almost) clinching victory.

“I don’t want to jinx myself by saying we’ve won it already,” Rose said before practice at Indiana/Purdue Indianapolis (IUPUI), or as it’s quaintly known here phonetically, Ooohy-poohy. “We’re almost there. We have one more important game and it’s important because it’s our next game.”

Yes, Tom. Err, Derrick.

We’ve seen Rose do terrific, game saving stuff all season, and certainly in the first two games of this series when he rallied the Bulls back with 39 and 36-point games. He shot just four of 18 Thursday against relentless trapping pressure which, by the way, I didn’t think the Bulls handled that well. I believe they’ll do a lot better Saturday.

The Pacers, curiously, waited until late in Game 2 to use it and until Game 3 to go full force. Though Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel has inspired the team, which finally being on more than channel 45 in Indianapolis may help as well, I thought Vogel was much too conservative in trying to counter Rose. Dahntay Jones, the Pacers’ best individual defender, didn’t play until Game 3, and he did a nice job against Rose.

The Pacers, who had been playing the no layups/hard foul game in the series, gave a few more, namely from Jeff Foster, whose fouls on Rose and Luol Deng in the third quarter were upgraded to flagrants by the NBA Friday.

As an aside, Dwight Howard’s fouls on Rose last season were much more dangerous and dirty and the league did nothing. These were relatively minor in comparison.

Still, here was a team fully committed to stopping, and perhaps putting down Rose. And here comes the last play of the game, the effective future of the series for the Pacers, and Rose not only gets to the basket, but makes a layup to win the game with 17.8 seconds left.

That is truly special stuff.

“He’s not just attacking the rim,” said Thibodeau. “It’s his decision making also. Look at his fourth quarter scoring, getting Kyle (Korver) good shots, Luol (Deng) good shots. He’s done a great job running the team. Derrick is going to attack the basket and go to the line and make free throws (90 percent in this series). And do it again and again and again. To me, that’s toughness. I love his poise and demeanor.

“He’s always under control,” said Thibodeau. “It’s a hard thing to do, taking shots at him. It says a lot about his toughness. He’s as tough as they come. Mentally and physically. And he doesn’t get discouraged.”

I assume the Pacers will continue that aggressive trap off the pick and roll, so I’d isolate Rose more, just as the Bulls did on that final play. Let him penetrate and then find the shooters in the corners. With Korver shooting so well (64.7 percent overall and 87.5 percent on threes), Pacers’ defenders are stuck whether to close on Rose or stay back. The Pacers have done a good job tightening the so called shell in the paint to force turnovers against inside passing. It’s also seemed to confuse the Bulls some as their ball movement has become somewhat stagnant with more ball holding.

When the Pacers trap Rose, the Bulls also need to have the release man reacting more quickly with a pass inside as the Pacers don’t recover that quickly. But they’ve stopped and looked too much.

Although Roy Hibbert didn’t have a good game with six points and seven rebounds, I didn’t think they used him very well and could have gotten him on the move with curls in the lane. I’d watch for that in Game 4. Hibbert was complaining about a lack of plays after Game 3, which isn’t a good sign for the Pacers. Figure they come out with a strong run and if the Bulls hold that off it will be hard to recover.

Since Game 1 when he had 22 points, Tyler Hansbrough has shot five of 24. And although no one says anything, and Hansbrough always has tat wild eyed look anyway, you have to wonder if that Kurt Thomas elbow to the head still has him unclear, as he seemed to be in Game 1. His shots certainly don’t look very straight.

Which has been a good thing for his defender, Carlos Boozer.

Boozer is averaging just 11 points on 36 percent shooting, and if the Bulls were not up 3-0, he’d be hearing a crescendo of condemnation. It’s not so nice even as it is.

Thibodeau has protected Boozer all season when Boozer played poorly, and I cannot blame him. Boozer has a long contract and the Bulls need his scoring, and Thibodeau cannot afford to lose him mentally. Though Boozer remains remarkably confident despite his uneven play. I give him that he’s an unusually confident, upbeat guy no matter the circumstances. It is a positive trait. And he bantered with reporters before practice even knowing the tone of the inquiries and wanted to know why I wasn’t wishing him good morning first before asking why, well, he’s not doing so well.

“All I care about is winning,” he repeated. “Last night, me and Derrick struggled. Derrick got to the free throw line. It was Luol’s night. He was a monster. Kyle had a phenomenal fourth quarter and Derrick had the ball in his hands at the end of the game and did it. Best time of year, isn’t it?”

Boozer then winked.

The Bulls clearly tried to go to Boozer again strong to open Game 3, and I assume they’ll do that again. Boozer picked up two quick fouls, and he tends to back off some with fouls for fear of getting more. But Thibodeau has his back.

“I thought Carlos played very well,” said Thibodeau. “He rebounded the ball well. He had a big score late (a baseline spin dunk as he clearly was growing frustrated because he’s rarely dunked this season). He got three assists, a big kick out to Kyle that got us a wide open three. He’s got to try to avoid foul trouble. It takes him out of rhythm. But he’s got to star aggressive.

“He is one of the best players on the team. It (criticism) goes with the territory,” said Thibideau. “He’s handled it extremely well. I thought he showed great poise in the fourth quarter. He stayed the course and kept fighting. People are collapsing on him in the post. They single cover him, he’ll score. It’s his responsibility to make the right play, and he’s done that.

“The thing for Carlos is he just has to play,” said Thibodeau. “You (media) guys worry about all the other stuff. He’s just got to do what he does for us, rebound the ball, run the floor, get deep posts, screen well. He doesn’t have to score big points to play well. If he’s getting good shots and missing, that’s part of the game. He has the ability to play well when he is not shooting well.”

Boozer has done a better job defensively on Hansbrough, but I’m guessing Thibodeau would like to see a bit more of that inside scoring. Maybe more than a bit. But he is handling it correctly, even if the interrogators don’t care for that.

And as the mantra continued among the Bulls, it’s win and move on and barely beating bottom seeds is nothing new for the Bulls franchise even at its best.

In 1998, they won the first two games in the first round against the Nets at home by a combined eight points with an overtime game.

In 1997, they won the last two of the three game sweep over Washington by a combined six points.

And those were eventual championship teams. Thibodeau talked about his 2008 Boston Celtics champions, who went to seven games in the opening round against the Hawks.

“Get the wins and move on,” said Rose. “As long as we’re winning we should not have anything to worry about. We know that we are not playing our best basketball, but we are still winning playoff games. If anything, we’re happy we’re in this position right now. It gets graded later. That’s what I always say.”

And again, a little child shall lead them.

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