The Sixers can beat Very Good. And they know it.
“All it takes is effort. Concentration. Understanding what we have to do, and do it,” Sixers guard Evan Turner said.
“The schemes and everything — we stuck to our principles,” said guard Jrue Holiday. “It is about not getting off-route. We know their plays. We will try to make them make plays, instead of just giving them what they want.”
“You get a good feeling about it when it works like that,” forward Elton Brand said. “But it’s a game of adjustments. They’re going to have a new wrinkle.”
Sixers coach Doug Collins expects the wrinkle to include more shots for forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. In Rose’s absence Tuesday, they shot 22 times, while guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas III combined for 23 shots.
Maybe there will be designs to get Deng and Boozer 30 shots. Maybe those designs were in place Tuesday. After all, the pair combined to make just seven of their 22 shots, mainly because superb wing defender Andre Iguodala throttled Deng, who went 3-for-12.
The Bulls are now 18-10 without Rose in the lineup — he has been sidelined several times this season — but they are just 7-6 against playoff teams without Rose in the lineup.
That’s very good. Not outstanding.
On Tuesday in Chicago, it was downright ordinary.
First, the Sixers matched Holiday, tenacious on off-the-ball defenders, on tireless shooters Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver.
The pair scored 30 points in Game 1. They hit 11 of 15 shots.
Feverishly, on Tuesday, Hamilton and Korver tried to shake Holiday. Desperately, Holiday, 3 or 4 inches shorter than each, stayed on them.
They combined for 17 points Tuesday and shot 6-for-14, and that was a deceptive total. Korver was scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter, when the Bulls trailed by 22. To that point, after 18 minutes of play, Korver had gotten free for only one shot.
Second, Turner, at 6-7, started in place of Jodie Meeks, who is 6-3. Turner is a lesser off-the-ball defender than Holiday, said Collins. But Turner aptly used his greater length to slow Watson, who is 5 inches shorter.
When the Bulls beat the Sixers in mid-March without Rose, Watson scored 20 points. Watson also scored 20 in Philadelphia in February, a game in which Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau benched Rose and the rest of the starters down the stretch.
Watson scored 12 on Tuesday.
“We strategized very well,” said Turner, who credited assistant coach Michael Curry with the backcourt defensive scheme. “I was able to use my length. And when they did run [double screens] for Korver and Rip, Jrue has such good recovery, he was able to chase them. And, sometimes, I was able to shade over to help.”
Third, the Sixers dominated the boards in the first and third quarters and won the rebounding battle, 38-32.
Turner had seven, fulfilling the main role behind the strategy of starting him over Meeks.
Reserve rookie center Lavoy Allen pulled nine, the third-best performance of his brief career ... and one more than rebounding machine Joakim Noah.
Noah had a season-high 18 boards in the Bulls’ win March 4, 11 rebounds when they won March 17, and 13 when they won Game 1.
He had seven when the Bulls lost at Philadelphia in February.
Noah had eight rebounds Tuesday. The first one was offensive, on the first possession, on which the Bulls managed three shots before they scored. The Sixers came away from that possession fuming at themselves; saying, Here we go again.
“That’s exactly what’s going through your head,” Brand acknowledged. “And then, ‘Let’s get this stopped.’ That’s something we have to really harp on.”
When the Bulls have beaten the Sixers, they have outrebounded them by almost 15 per game.
Certainly, the Sixers can replicate this performance.
Certainly, it might get even easier.
Because Noah also had the night of his life. He hit 10 of 11 shots for 20 points, two points below his season high and almost double his average.
Noah kept the Bulls in the game. Given his miraculous shooting mechanics — it’s a miracle he makes anything — that cannot happen again. It just can’t.
It is the X-factor. It is within the boundaries of what the Sixers deem acceptable.
“Each game you have to draw the line and stop a team from doing what they want to do,” Turner said.
Last game, the Sixers held that line.
Tonight, they can hold that line. Again, and again, and again. n
Contact Marcus Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.