John Smallwood: Bulls out of options

Official Dan Crawford hears the Bulls' case pleaded by (from left) Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver.
Official Dan Crawford hears the Bulls' case pleaded by (from left) Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 08, 2012

FOR PRACTICAL purposes, Tom Thibodeau said what his depleted and shellshocked team needs to hear.

The Chicago Bulls are playing a young Sixers squad that only has experience in trying to avoid losing a close-out game, not winning one.

Conceptually, there is a chance that Chicago can come back from what is now a 3-1 deficit and avoid becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed ever to lose in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

But it's not going to happen. This series is done.

Whether it happens on Tuesday in Chicago or back in Philadelphia on Thursday, the eighth-seeded Sixers are going to win this series and move to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

"We just have to worry about the next game," Thibodeau said after his Bulls lost, 89-82, Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. "There is nothing we can do but win the next game, focus on the next game.

"We do have enough to win. I think that's the thing that is disappointing right now. The last two games we were in position to win and we didn't get the job done. We all have to do better."

All of that sounds reasonable if this were the Chicago Bulls team Thibodeau coached to a 50-16 record, tied with San Antonio for best in the league.

It's not.

Without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, out for the postseason after blowing out a knee in Game 1, it was going to be difficult for the Bulls to beat the Sixers.

But when high-energy big man Joakim Noah severely sprained his left ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 on Friday, the task became impossible.

It was no coincidence that with Noah in the locker room on Friday, the Sixers rallied big in the fourth quarter to win.

With Noah in street clothes on Sunday, the Bulls again simply did not have enough options to keep the Sixers from pulling away in the final minutes.

"At the end, it's going to be hustle plays, tough plays, hard-nosed plays, second shots, multiple efforts, that's what it comes down to," Thibodeau said. "You got to make them."

Well, only if you have the players who are capable of making them.

The Bulls, in their current situation, do not.

Without Rose and possibly again without Noah for Game 5, there are not enough adjustments for the Bulls to make.

After getting run out of the United Center when the Sixers put up 109 points in Game 2, the Bulls did what they wanted by turning Games 3 and 4 in South Philadelphia into halfcourt slugfest.

Sunday's game wasn't as butt-ugly as the Sixers' 79-74 win on Friday, but the point is, the Sixers again won a game that was played a pace more favorable to the Bulls.

Going into this series, the general opinion was that the Sixers would not be able to score enough points to overcome the top-ranked defensive team in the NBA.

That all changed when Rose went down.

Having Rose as your go-to-guy in a close fourth quarter is a quite a bit different than having to look to Carlos Boozer and C.J. Watson.

Watson scored a career playoff-high 17, but if Thibodeau has to draw up a play for Watson to take a three-pointer of a timeout in the closing moments of a tight game, his options are clearly too limited.

Knowing that, the Sixers emphasized making Boozer and All-Star Luol Deng, the two leading scorers after Rose, work on both ends of the court.

Tired legs tend to come up short in the fourth quarter.

Boozer had a game-high 23 points, but he needed 24 shots to get there. Deng scored 11 on 5-for-11 shooting.

The duo combined for just seven in the decisive fourth quarter.

"We knew Boozer was going to get shots," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "You make him defend a lot of pick and rolls, to go around picks and make him use energy whenever you can.

"We'll aspire to our theory to make a guy take the number of shots to get his points. [Deng and Boozer] took 35 shots and got 34 points. We'll live with that."

There aren't enough adjustments available for Chicago to deal with the Sixers without Rose.

With Rose, the Bulls likely would not have to be worrying about adjustments.

"You always think you can do better," Thibodeau said. "We've got to score better. We've got to get some easy baskets late and make them miss.

"You have to be able to rebound and run. Then you have to ask yourself, 'Are you getting the shots you would like?'

"We're fighting, but we can do better. We can do a lot better."

Actually, the Bulls can't.

Having enough fight isn't the issue. It's about having enough options, and right now Chicago does not.


Contact John Smallwood at

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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