76ers even series 1-1 with 109-92 victory in Chicago


May 2

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Now that 109-92 Philadelphia 76ers win Tuesday over the Bulls to even the first round playoff series at 1-1 is a game in which the Bulls could certainly have used Derrick Rose.

Yes, I know, we’ll be thinking that often for a long time to come, and it’s also time to get past that. Reporters in the wake of the Bulls discouraging loss — before which Rose discarded his new crutches and limped to midcourt and waved in an inspiring appearance for the fans and the team to present the honorary game ball — tried in various ways to elicit suggestions from Bulls players of a still emotional hangover from the shocking Game 1 playoff ending loss of Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Derrick Rose

Most players were having none of it.

“Derrick is not here,” Luol Deng repeated twice, seemingly a bit annoyed. “This is a different team. We’ve been through it. We’ve played a lot of games. There’s a lot of games that we’ve won. You guys can go back and watch them, how we won them. One guy doesn’t have to get out of character. We’re a team and we’re going to get it done together.”

But the painful truth is the leveling of the playing field, so to speak. Yes, the Bulls were 18-9 in games this season in which Rose didn’t play. But there often was the possibility and always the belief he was just around the corner from returning. That’s gone for this season, and the Bulls seemed to collapse after a somewhat emotional start, crushed by 64.3 percent 76ers’ shooting in the second half in a 62-37 second half rout. The Bulls at home trailed by double digits the last 14 minutes and by as much as 24 after leading by 10 just before halftime.

“There’s no excuses,” said Joakim Noah when asked about Rose. “We know we can play better than we did. It’s disappointing, but we live to fight another day. There’s a lot of basketball to be played. This is a team game, period. It is not about any individual. Today was about our team defense. We have to fight out there and just didn’t do a good job fighting today. Everybody has the right intention on this team. That’s why we’re the No. 1 seed. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. There really are no excuses at this point, We’ve got to fight, The way we started that third quarter (21-6 76ers in the first six minutes) was unacceptable. If they beat us and we’re fighting and doing everything we’ve got to do, give it to them. But we know we’re better than we were today. I feel frustration, but we live to fight another day.

“The 76ers are good but this is about us,” said Noah, who showed more offensive versatility than ever with the Bulls with 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting, including several jump shots, eight rebounds and five assists. “Our team defense wasn’t good. We’ll see what we’re made of. We got our (butts) kicked today. Let’s see what we’re made of.”

There was all sorts of inspirational stuff around from Rose’s appearance to statements from current and former Bulls.

But the intangibles don’t win games. It’s the effort, the plays, the changes, the adjustments, the shots and the reactions. And the 76ers had all the answers this time. Philadelphia coach Doug Collins was masterful in several areas in responding to the Bulls dominance in Game 1 of the series.

The Bulls in Game 1 handled the 76ers with the movement and play of both Richard Hamilton and Kyle Korver, who one scout said scored almost every time in the same so called “floppy” play the Bulls ran some two dozen times. It’s where they run the baseline and curl over a downscreen with either a pass to the screening big man or shot. The 76ers shut that down with an aggressive big man trap off the screen and changing the angle to deny the pass inside.

Hamilton and Korver combined for 30 points on 11 of 15 shooting in Game 1. In Game 2, they had 17 points on six of 14 shooting.

The Bulls didn’t react to the 76ers’ adjustments well, failing several times to find shooters open on top.

Plus, Collins benched Jodie Meeks, whom Hamilton singed for 11 first quarter points in Game 1 to get the Bulls off to a quick start then. The 76ers started Evan Turner, who had a terrific game even as he continued to be booed for some pre series comments he made about preferring to play the Bulls instead of the Heat, and Turner had 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

The 76ers had to clean up the rebounding differential as the Bulls dominated Game 1 47-38 on the boards with 20 second chance points. Turner is the 76ers top rebounding guard, and he helped the 76ers outrebound the Bulls 38-32 with the Bulls getting just nine second chance points.

That’s how the Bulls have to win without Rose’s offense, by getting to the boards and converting second chance opportunities. But the 76ers were more physical, particularly on the perimeter, where they put Turner on C.J. Watson. Turner was too much for Watson, who was just four of 11 for 12 points. Also, Jrue Holiday used his quickness to run Hamilton off shots.

Though Holiday again was a big problem for the Bulls without Rose to play him. Holiday scored 30 points in the game against the Bulls that Rose missed this season. The Bulls won that game as Watson offset him some with 20 points, and Holiday got a bit carried away going at Watson and tended to ignore his teammates.

But that position is a bad defensive mismatch for the Bulls. Watson has difficulty staying with Holiday, so tends to back off, leaving Holiday open shots. When Watson moves up, Holiday blew by him. And the Bulls didn’t do a good job with help as the 76ers also were quicker moving the ball.

“We can’t let guys go one-on-one,” said Korver. “We’ve got to be there to help. We’ve got to play as a team. We’ve been saying all along we’re a great team. We’ve got to come out and play like a team and not try to go one-on-one and not leave guys one-on-one. We’ve got to play together.”

The Bulls tried, but the backcourt was overwhelmed. John Lucas was second to Noah with 15 points thanks to an 11-point run in the second quarter when it looked like the Bulls might blow open the game on the way to a 55-47 halftime lead.

But the 76ers came back at him strong with Lou Williams playing hard over screens, and Lucas then resorting to more dribbling and shots late in the clock. Williams, getting going against the Bulls for the first time this season, went on to score 20 points as the 76ers began to have him attack Lucas in isolation in the second half.

The 76ers did a more aggressive job trapping the Bulls pick and roll. It also proved a greater issue with Lucas. While Lucas had a nice offensive run at the end of that second quarter, he continually missed Taj Gibson when the 76ers trapped and then switched. Several times, Lou Williams had to pick up Gibson rolling to the basket. But Lucas couldn’t see and ended up shooting.

It might not be a bad idea to give Mike James a look in Game 3 in Philadelphia Friday as he’s bigger and more physical than Lucas and is more proficient at running a team. Perhaps even a few minutes with Jimmy Butler as the 76ers pushed the Bulls around some as well.

“I’ve go to do better defensively,” said Watson. “We did not guard the ball well, rebound, get back in transition. We have to take better shots and get back transition and go from there.”

No, the playoffs is not generally time for rotation experiments. Except that’s what the rest of this playoff run for the Bulls probably is about. While Rose’s absence is obvious on offense, like in even stopping runs like the 76ers had to open the second half, his defense was much underrated. He’s strong and could hold off someone like Holiday and stay with him.

But, instead, the Bulls perimeter was being compromised and their middle penetrated, which unhinges their defensive principles. The 76ers shot a Bulls opponent season best 59 percent.

Tom Thibodeau

“It was a compilation of things,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “It was an offensive game from the start. We never got our defense going. We scored fine in the first half and then in the second half we couldn’t. We could not count on our defense. They out rebounded us and they out fought us. I though they were a lot more physical. I thought the third quarter was the game. In the first five minutes they were into us. We took tough shots. We did not have floor balance. They got into the open floor and the crushed us off isolation. We have to come back stronger. We are capable of playing a lot better than we did. It starts with me. I have to have us ready to play better. We got a couple of days to get it right. Bottom line is the fight. These are going to be hard fought games. We’ve got to dig in. We’ve got to have more determination. You’ve got to take the challenge. There’s a lot of one on one basketball. You’ve got to guard the ball.”

In some respects, the 76ers are a mini Miami Heat. No one is mistaking them for Miami’s All-Stars. There is no LeBron James. But the game plan is similar. They are not a good half court team because they don’t have a knock down shooter. Meeks is the best, but he was benched after the first quarter of Game 1 for defense and we probably won’t see much of him again. The 76ers also went with Spencer Hawes back starting at center to put some more size on Noah to try to keep him off the boards. Hawes had foul trouble, and Noah had the most unlikely offensive run of his career in the first half with seven of seven, including a rare right handed runner and several jumpers.

But in concentrating on those second chance points, the 76ers did a better job staying strong on box outs with Hawes and Lavoy Allen, and the result was numerous fast breaks for soaring Andre Iguodala dunks and lobs that seemed to deflate the Bulls in a 36-14 third quarter. The 76ers in winning a playoff game in Chicago for the first time ever had 25 fast break points (11-0 in the third quarter) to eight for the Bulls. Like playing Miami, you have to keep them in the halfcourt and out of transition.

“We did not play with the pace we need to,” said Korver. “We ended up toward the end of the shot clock with tough shots. They got long rebounds and they have three or four guys who get it and go. We have to fight the temptation to go for the offensive rebound. We’ve got to have more than one guy back.

“We know how we have to play,” said Korver. “There’s a blueprint for us. How they’re going to beat us is fast break points. If they get out on the break. If we play our game we feel like were going to make it a good series. If we don’t take away the things they do really we’re going to be in a tough spot.”

It’s tough enough going to Philadelphia without the so called home court advantage anymore, without Rose, who of all guys even tried to reassure his teammates after the loss in the locker room, and with Noah and Lucas your leading scorers.

It was a tough game for both Deng and Carlos Boozer, who were a combined seven of 22 for 17 points. There’s no way the Bulls can score enough without those two as Noah isn’t likely to shoot 10 of 11 again.

But Thibodeau interestingly didn’t play Deng the last 10:26, which was unchacteristic. Thibodeau would only say after the game of Deng: “He is just fighting through things. It is the same it has been all year.”

But Deng has had a few episodes like this during the season where his problem left wrist (torn ligament) worsened and he wasn’t able to do much off the dribble. Plus, Andre Iguodala plays Deng tougher than any other defender in the league, and Collins says that’s no coincidence.

“Andre Iguodala to me is the best wing defender in the NBA,” said Collins. “We were 7-3 against Atlanta, Boston and Indiana and he guarded Danny Granger, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson. He gives us a chance to beat these teams with his defense.”

And Elton Brand was tough again. He was just five of six for 12 points, but he continued to push Boozer off his inside spots into jumpers and Boozer was four of 10 for nine points.

“Carlos can score in transition, catch and shoot, postups and pick and roll and be a playmaker,” said Thibodeau, who does not criticize his players. “As a team we did not play up to our ability.”

Collins, meanwhile, was ebullient after the win and said the third quarter was the best the team has played since he’s coached them. And while no one wants to revel in the Bulls’ and Rose’s misfortune, Collins did say he told the team, “We have a great opportunity. Let’s take advantage of this.”

Suddenly, it looks like the 76ers may be able to.

The notion coming into the game, at least for Game 2, was the Bulls would be carried by the moment of the game, the emotional reaction to Rose and a sort of win for the Gipper mentality. But the 76ers hung with the Bulls early, shooting almost 60 percent in rhe first quarter in a bad sign as Holiday was getting to the rim with little problem.

Turner also was refusing to buckle to any crowd negative reaction and winning his matchup as well as Hamilton could not hold him off.

“Evan feels like he’s the best player in the gym,” said Collins. “I love that. I know maybe made some ill timed comments. He was booed everytime he touched the ball. A lot of guys would cower from that. Evan rises to the challenge. I’m not a big guy in doing a lot of talking, but I like the way he’s playing.”

The home crowd was also strangely sedate, perhaps Rose’s pained expression walking out pregame to greet the crowd having an impact. Perhaps a final realization he isn’t coming back. That this is going to be very, very hard every moment of every game.

And it was this time. Though Rose did nothing special in Game 1, he was one assist and one rebound away from a triple double with 23 points. That’s an awful lot to replace without near perfection on defense. The conventional wisdom, at least in Chicago, was the 18-9 was a better winning percentage than teams like the 76ers and even Celtics, and the defense without Rose was even stingier. So why not now? But it also requires six players scoring in double figures, and a limited Deng, the leading scorer with Rose out, is problematic.

“Tonight was embarrassing,” said Deng. “But no one’s going to feel sorry for us. We all have to step it up.
It is what it is. This is our job. We’re grown men. We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to go out there and play. Some nights, you’re going to play well. Some nights, you’re not. But defensively, you can never make an excuse. That’s not who we are and what we showed tonight. We’ve got enough guys here. We’re good enough. We just didn’t show up tonight in the second half. We’ve got a lot of different guys who can score. This is the playoffs. Defensively, we’ve got to better. We’ve got to take the challenge, each individual.”

It seemed like the Bulls had responded in a sharp second quarter in which only Holiday remained out of control. Lucas and Noah were making all sorts of shots (19 of the Bulls 27 points, which maybe should have been worrisome), and the Bulls scored in the last nine possessions of the half.

But there were some signs. The 76ers were still shooting 52.8 percent at halftime and had 26 inside points to 20 for the Bulls. The Bulls were making jump shots. Could they continue?

“We are not a great half court team,” said Collins. “We don’t have a great post presence. We have to have ball movement. They ball has to go side to side. That we did tonight, and when you get turnovers like we did, fast break points come as well.”

And they did come after halftime as the Bulls guards laid off and the 76ers began making shots, and then it all began unraveling. Deng was going one on one, missing and Iguodala was flying out for slams. The shots were missing and the 76ers were getting the long rebounds. Philadelphia is good at throwing ahead instead of dribbling up, as the Bulls were doing. The ball was moving fast, and they were exploiting a flaw the Bulls have a hard time covering without Rose, the lack of great athletes. The Bulls get great hustle from guys like Noah and Deng, but they don’t match the athletes of the 76ers. And when the 76ers are in transition like that it’s the end for the Bulls, which it was toward the end of the third with little response.

“This game we kind of caught fire and it’s pretty hard to put it out,” said Holiday.

Joakim Noah

Deng sat most of the fourth and the 76ers did a good job continuing to smother Korver’s openings until he and Noah made some shots late after the building began emptying with five minutes left and the 76ers ahead 102-78.

Toward the end of Noah’s media session as the coaches and a player from each team go to an interview room, someone tried to goad Noah into saying something negative about the city of Philadelphia, like he did with Cleveland.

Noah paused for quite a while and shook his head with that “Now you know why everyone hates the media” look.

“It’s a great city,” Noah finally said.

The 76ers now go home after having played 11 of their last 13 games on the road. The Bulls better be prepared for an enthusiastic home crowd that perhaps for the first time senses its team has a chance in this series. Perhaps they do not have a great team, but better than advertised.

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