Bulls win Game 5 to get back in series with 76ers


May 9

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

So after all that–losing Derrick Rose to that catastrophic knee injury in Game 1, losing Joakim Noah to that horrendous sprained ankle in Game 3, and then with Taj Gibson limping to the locker room Tuesday in Game 5 with his own sprained ankle, after the team filing a missing persons report on Richard Hamilton, after it appeared the Bulls rediscovered Vinny Del Negro’s offense and ordered Luol Deng to stand in the corner in Philadelphia, after Ronnie Brewer was benched in Game 3 after 43 starts this season, after C.J. Watson went six straight quarters without scoring and then again the first half of Game 5, after the Bulls blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead to lose Game 3 in Philadelphia and went down three games to one and only eight teams ever came back from that, and after all that, the Bulls are one game away from scaring the cheesesteaks out of the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I don’t want it to come to a Game 7,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said after the Bulls pushed the lid on their playoff coffin open a bit Tuesday in the United Center with a grueling 77-69 victory.

The 76ers now lead 3-2, and, yes, Game 6 is in Philadelphia 6 p.m. Thursday. But if it is a firing squad the Bulls are facing Thursday, they have to be thrilled Andre Iguodala (four of 19 Tuesday), Evan Turner (two of seven) and Jrue Holiday (five of 17) are the main shooters.

The 76ers don’t have the kinds of players who cannot spell “horse.” No, they could be in an empty gym trying to make layups and not finish out the famous H-O-R-S-E shooting game. Better C-A-T for them, or N-O. Or, oh no!

And now it’s one more home game to end it for the 76ers or back to Chicago for Game 7 Saturday.

If they think those rims looked small before, wait until they have to make shots now.

Luol Deng

“We were in a situation where we knew if we lose we go home,” said Luol Deng, who came up big with 24 points, including three four quarter three pointers. “After tonight’s game, they are going to feel some pressure. We have to go out and take it a game at a time. They’re going to feel a little pressure in trying to close it out.”

What’s that thing about pressure bursting pipes. And twisting someone up into a Philly pretzel?

This is the No. 8 seeded 76ers’ team that now is supposed to win. The Bulls lose their two best players, they lose home court advantage. They’re starting Omer Asik, for gosh sakes. The 76ers were leading three games to one. They’re going to blow it to a team with a center averaging two points and the point guard shooting 25 percent?

That’s what Thursday suddenly is about for the gang that can’t shoot straight.

It hardly seems possible, but the 76ers get worse every game with their shooting, 32.1 percent Tuesday after 39.2 percent in Game 4 and 34.2 percent in Game 3. And they won Games 3 and 4.

They may be sending this series to Springfield, but the one where the Simpsons live.

It was 35-26 Bulls Tuesday at halftime. The 76ers were shooting 28.6 percent. Really, is that possible? They set a record for fewest points ever in a playoff half. Going into the fourth quarter, not a single 76ers had scored in double figures. There were soccer games with more scoring. OK, that’s not true. But you get the idea.

But this was not completely the 76ers’ own doing. Actually, the Bulls had an awful lot to do with it.

“That’s the kind of game we have to play if we want to win the series, grind it out, physical, blocking shots,” said Kyle Korver. “When we won without Derrick, when we beat good teams we played that kind of game. That’s how we won, high energy, big defensive plays, protecting the rim, making them take jump shots. That’s how we need to play.”

Taj Gibson

And suddenly the task doesn’t seem quite as daunting. Win a road game. Yes, it’s not easy without Rose and Noah and now Taj Gibson having sprained his ankle in the third quarter, though he returned and seemed mostly OK. The concern is with ankle injuries, you often are better right after the injury and then it swells overnight. Gibson also was involved in a bit of a skirmish with Elton Brand with both getting technicals late in the second quarter. It appeared Gibson elbowed Brand in a scramble for the ball and the TNT TV announcing crew suggested Gibson could be suspended. Gibson seemed shocked when that was brought up to him post game and Brand pretty much dismissed it as hard play.

And there was plenty of it with the Bulls meting out most of it to the point Collins deftly added to his post game comments that, “I have to read the memo on freedom of movement again.”

Collins apparently felt the officials allowed too much contact and the Bulls to hold up the 76ers guards cutting. Spencer Hawes displayed a big cut across his face of another sort when he appeared at the post game press conference.

“That’s the way these games have been going,” said Hawes, who had 11 points and 14 rebounds after back to back 20-plus points games in Philadelphia. “It’s a physical series. If that’s how it’s going to go, we can play that brand of basketball.”

And if the 76ers do, the Bulls just might advance to the conference semifinals.

Because physical isn’t the 76ers’ game, and already Collins was warning them against it.

“It’s not what we do, to go out there and play smash mouth basketball,” said Collins. “We’ve got to stay with what we are doing. You can’t let one game get you spinning in the wrong direction, We did not expect to beat the Bulls four straight. This is a damn good team.”

The Bulls were good, or at least as good as they could be without their two most important players. They’re not going to be fancy or very exciting to watch. Paint drying could draw a larger audience if the color were right. But they’re going to protect the middle and the rim, and Gibson and Asik did with a combined seven blocks. Gibson had just eight points and seven rebounds, but Collins called him the most vital Bulls player. That’s because Gibson is one of the few true athletes the Bulls have, and he’s effectively throttled the 76ers’ Thaddeus Young, who was zero for three and scoreless. Young is averaging just seven points in the series, diminishing the 76ers usually effective bench. One of the 76ers’ key points was to deny Gibson inside position, and when Gibson sealed Young once and got a nice bounce pass from Asik for a slam dunk, Collins angrily yanked Young.

Though Asik had just four points, his defensive presence in the middle has frustrated the 76ers’ guards, who were blowing past the Bulls perimeter and to the rim. Thibodeau finally went back to Brewer, whom he’d benched in Game 3 in saying it just was a matter of more minutes for other players. But Brewer was huge Tuesday with six points, eight rebounds and three steals as Carlos Boozer said it was Brewer who was the key player in “changing the whole game with his activity.”

But Boozer was equally important. He had 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and all those calling for him to be the 20/10 player he was with the Jazz, well, this was that Boozer. That’s because he played 42 minutes, perhaps 13 or 14 more than he usually does with Rose and Noah. And the Bulls now had to go through him more in the post for offense. They’ll need to do it even more in Game 6 as I still thought they ran too much pick and roll on the perimeter instead of getting it into Boozer to work more.

Carlos Boozer

“Booz knows he’s going to get the ball the whole game now,” said Korver. “Jo and Derrick were our two biggest guys to go through. Now we need him more in the post and to shoot jump shots and create offense. A lot of people here didn’t watch Booz in Utah. That’s how he played. He got the ball almost every time down the floor. He did not have to force anything or rush anything and he is playing really good basketball now.”

I know it’s been local sport to blame Boozer for every blown help, missed garbage pickup and construction delay. As if Watson and Brewer and Richard Hamilton and Deng don’t miss any assignments. Boozer had 23 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4 and a questionable drive non call that went against him that may have turned the game. Again in Game 5, his all around game was excellent with a career equaling playoff high in assists.

“Coach is always the same,” said Deng. “He just wants us to play hard. The main thing we need to do is defend. He approached this game the same as any of the past ones. We all knew we had to win it. We just played better defense tonight. We made shots and had a mindset to go out and score and then stop them. We did a good job of keeping their guards in front of us. Their guards have really been hurting us, getting into the paint. Tonight the bigs did a good job keeping the guards in front of us, having them take tough shots. We’re in a situation where we know if we lose we go home. After tonight’s game, they are going to feel some pressure to close it out.

“Taj has been great all year,” Deng added. “Ronnie was great tonight. Even last game, in Philly, when we were watching the tape, coach kept talking about how great Ronnie was defensively. Tonight he did it again. He has a knack of stealing the ball and really getting to players and affecting their shots. Defensively he’s one of the best. I really believe that. And then when Taj went down, it was, ‘Not again!’ I was screaming for him to get up and be in pain later.”

Yes, it always seems something with these Bulls now. But more than anything, they now seem back in a series. And one they finally seem to have the game plan enough to win. Can the 76ers keep missing shots like this? Why not? Brewer was an addition to help thwart the 76ers’ guards penetration as both Watson and John Lucas were having all sorts of trouble keeping them in front and Turner was bullying Watson when the Bulls were on offense.

“It was a win or go on vacation type situation,” said Brewer. “So a lot of guys had to step up. We had to come with a lot of energy and that’s what we did. Thibs told me I need to bring energy on both ends. We needed to slow down some of their guards. They’ve been killing us the whole series. We tried to contest their shots and get some easy baskets in transition.”

And keep the 76ers from running too much, though they did have 23 fast break points. But they weren’t the flying, break open the game type dunks and the Bulls did a much better job of sprinting back in transition and covering in the backcourt when someone was hitting the offensive boards or driving to the basket and the 76ers tried to leak out.

The game plan remains the same against Philadelphia. Slow the game, keep them in the halfcourt and beat them up. It’s worked quite a bit, though the second quarter of Game 2 and the fourth quarter of Game 3 were fatal for the Bulls and left them in this hole despite mostly outplaying the 76ers even without Rose and Noah. It showed how one sided this series would have and should have been if the Bulls were healthy and that four or five games was the maximum.

I thought ESPN had an interesting stat about the 76ers that supported the Bulls game plan philosophy: The 76ers shot 28.8 percent in the half court during Game 5, the lowest for any team this postseason. The 76ers had 80 half-court plays during the game and they were unable to score a point on 58 of the 80 (72.5 percent).

It’s who they are, and why Collins quickly waved off media suggestions his team needed to retaliate and stop getting pushed around. Media, fans and Republican candidates love a war, but Collins knows he doesn’t have the troops for one.

“You have to give them credit,” said Collins. They are a great, great defensive team. The more that you get into the playoffs, the more physical they get. They just got into us physically. We just need to go home now and be more efficient. I didn’t think we lost any composure out there, even with that scrum at the end of the bench. It was just a very physical game. That’s one reason they are able to win with injuries. Their defense always gives them a chance. They’re big, they’re strong.”

And it was the Bulls kind of game throughout.

It was 17-16 Bulls after one quarter with Deng off to a fast start with nine points. Many wondered about Deng in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and in previous games as he averaged eight points in the three previous games. But for much of Game 4 he was left to stand in the corner while Watson and Boozer ran a two man game, very unusual for Thibodeau’s coaching. Though Thibodeau was calling the plays, as he does every one.

So it seemed clear Deng had enough and just went.

“I felt like I didn’t shoot the ball enough,” he admitted. “Tonight, I was more aggressive. Sometimes when having Derrick out, we’re just playing a little differently. Tonight I just wanted to be more aggressive from the start.”

The Bulls began to stretch it out to a 35-26 lead at halftime. Heck, through three quarters the 76ers had just barely outscored Kobe Bryant.

Gibson came in late in the first quarter and even without scoring was a factor thwarting Young and the 76ers on the interior. Both he and Asik are terrific help defenders, and when they play together the Bulls defense is at its best. Adding Brewer to the mix helped in Game 5.

Late in the quarter, Brand, who now is struggling and had just five points, grabbed a ball and fought for it with Gibson, both going to the floor in front of the Bulls bench. Both drew technicals.

“I didn’t intentionally try to elbow him,” Gibson said. “I was just trying to play hard for my team. It was guys just being aggressive and going hard for their team. It’s playoff basketball.” Gibson said he’s always been a big fan of Brand’s, and said when they got up, “He looked at me and said, ‘Are you good?’ I said, ‘I’m fine.’ That’s it. Move on.”

The Bulls did to that nine point halftime lead and maintained it through the third quarter with Boozer carrying the team with 12 points as Gibson went out with what looked like a bad sprain after he stepped on the foot of Lavoy Allen.

“I was a little in shock (about the sprain), Said Gibson. “But I’ll be OK. Things like this happen. I was just hoping it wasn’t too bad that I couldn’t put pressure on it. I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to play. It’s win or go home. I’ll be fine. I know myself. Prepare to be a warrior again and try to get another win. I said the only way they’re gong to take me of this court if I get hurt again. It was do or die. Nobody wants to get eliminated at home. You battle until you can’t battle no more. I was going back in regardless. I was only worried about riding until the wheels came off. I’ll do everything in my power to play (Thursday). I have all summer to lay back, so I’m going to lay it on the line. It’s all about heart and will, and that’s the way I play,”

And then Deng took care of the rest in the fourth with those three big threes, twice with the shot clock on its last tick.

Deng, bristling after the losses in Philadelphia, laughed when he was asked whether Gibson’s little incident with Brand changed up the team.

“I just came out of the game and I was a little tired so I just sat down,” Deng said with a smile. “I just kind of enjoyed my time on the bench. A lot of time when a fight breaks out, no one ends up really fighting.”

“It fired us up,” he said laughing, realizing reporters were looking for a different answer. “I sat there and enjoyed it. I had two heat packs and was feeling great.”

“It was a big game tonight and we won it,” Deng said. “Now we’ve got a big game in Philly and have to go there and try to get it.”

And then they’ll really feel great. This could turn out to be something after all that.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: