When the playoffs kicked off 10 days ago, I thought the series between the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers would be a first-round tune-up for Chicago on a return trip to the Conference Finals. However, this series has been anything but a walk in the park. Here we are five games into the postseason and the Bulls find themselves in a 3-1 hole, needing a win just to keep their season alive.
While Injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have hampered the Bulls during these playoffs, the team refuses to use that as an excuse. All of the players believe that a win in Game 5 will put all of the pressure back on the Sixers to close out the series on their home floor. So with that being said, here are a few things the Bulls need to do in order to avoid an early summer vacation.
Play a complete game:
As simple as this may sound, the Bulls need to play a complete 48 minutes of basketball. In Game 3, Chicago played well enough through three quarters only to watch the Sixers outscore them 28-14 in the fourth quarter, turning a 14 point deficit into a 79-74 win. In Game 4, the Bulls kept the score close for most of the game, but they were never able to score enough points down the stretch. As a result, the Sixers pulled away for an 89-82 win behind consecutive three-pointers by Jrue Holiday and clutch free-throw shooting. The Bulls will need to play extremely well from start to finish if they hope to send the series back to Philadelphia for a Game 6.
One of the areas where Joakim Noah excels is offensive rebounding, which often lead to easy scores around the basket. Without Noah on the floor, the Bulls have to find a way to score points in the paint. Carlos Boozer scored 23 points in Game 4. However, most of his shot attempts came from the perimeter. In order for the Bulls' inside game to be effective, Boozer will need to play down on the block more frequently. Omer Asik will also need to be more of an offensive presence in this game. While his skills are limited, he should be capable of giving them six to eight points around the basket.
Aggressive guard play:
After laying a goose egg in Game 3, C.J. Watson had a good showing in Game 4, scoring 17 points in the second half. While this was a much needed outburst from the point-guard position, Watson has not been aggressive and like Boozer, he has been settling for the perimeter shot as well. When we rely on outside shooting, it usually leads to fast-break points for the Sixers. Watson is not as quick as Derrick Rose or John Lucas III, but he does have the ability to get into the paint for easier shots. If he is aggressive and takes care of the basketball, I like the Bulls' chances of winning this game.
Rip Hamilton has been relatively quiet in this series as the Sixers have done a good job of not allowing him to get open looks at the basket by sending multiple players at him when he comes off screens. Being that Hamilton is a capable passer, he will need to become more of a facilitator. If he can consistently create scoring opportunities for his teammates, the Sixers will not be able to solely focus on him defensively and he should become more of a scoring threat in the process.
While a comeback in this series seems unlikely at this point, several teams have accomplished the feat. In fact, Rip Hamilton was on the Detroit Pistons team in 2003 that came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Orlando Magic, en route to the Conference Finals. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, the Bulls need to win Game 5 first and a victory over a confident Sixers' team will not come easy.
James Tillman III is a resident of the Chicago-land area, who has been a Bulls' fan since the 1987-1988 season. James is also a Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo and a Sports Journalist for Sports Rantz Magazine. For discussions about the NBA and the NFL, Follow him on Twitter @jtillman9693.
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"Like the Bulls, Rip Hamilton's Pistons also were down 3-1 in '03, but they rallied vs. Magic", Neil Hayes, Chicago Sun-Times