Alright, so Game 2 was a disaster. But that does not mean the Chicago Bulls are all of a sudden finished, even if Derrick Rose isn't walking through that door. The Bulls are back in action on Friday night for Game 3 of their first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers (7:00 p.m. CT on ESPN2), and they can quickly right the ship with a big road victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
After a solid first half in Game 2, the Bulls were overwhelmed by an aggressive and uptempo Sixers attack in the second half. The Bulls – perhaps caught up in the emotion of the whole Rose thing – pretty much rolled over and died as the Sixers kicked their face in over and over. Not only was the Bulls' offense dreadful, but their normally stout defense was put to shame as well. It was a shockingly weak effort by a Bulls team that prides itself on its defensive intensity.
Going on the road may actually be a good thing for the Bulls at this point in time, as they can just focus on basketball and not be bothered by some of those other distractions that can take place at home (specifically, some of the Rose stuff). Furthermore, the Bulls have been very successful on the road this season, sporting a league-best 24-9 road record during the regular season. Of course, I think we've learned not to put TOO much stock into regular season records.
But on to the actual game. We know the Bulls stunk it up in Game 2, so what do they have to do to bounce back?
First and foremost, the Bulls need to get return to what they do best: defend hard every possession and attack the boards. The Bulls failed miserably in both areas in Game 2, as they gave up 59 percent shooting and were outrebounded 38-32. With the offense limited due to Rose's absence, the Bulls cannot afford to get in a shootout with the Sixers. So that defense must get cleaned up.
Part of defending better includes actually getting back on defense in the first place. In several meetings this season, and especially in Game 2, the Sixers have destroyed the Bulls in transition. In that game-deciding third quarter, Philly scored 11 fast break points. They looked to push the ball off almost every single turnover or miss, and the Bulls were not prepared for the onslaught. Making this even worse was the fact that the Bulls were not even crashing the offensive boards that hard (as noted by the whole getting outrebounded thing). They were just outhustled back down the court.
Looking at some of the individual defensive matchups, the Bulls need a much better effort from C.J. Watson on Jrue Holiday. Holiday feasted on Watson and the Bulls in Game 2, scoring 26 points on 11-15 shooting. And if you remember, Holiday scored 30 points in the regular season game that Rose missed. Watson obviously cannot mimic Rose's elite physical tools, but there's no question that he can do a better job making Holiday's life more difficult.
The Bulls also must find a way to slow down Evan Turner. Sixers coach Doug Collins inserted Turner into the starting lineup in Game 2, and the Chicago native responded in a big way. He scored 19 points on 8-15 shooting and dominated Rip Hamilton time and again. With the news that Andre Iguodala may be limited on Friday night, I wonder if we see Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau switch Luol Deng onto Turner if the Sixers' wing lights up Hamilton again.
Switching over to the offensive side of the ball, the Bulls need to get their big guns going again. Joakim Noah and John Lucas III were the only guys who played reasonably well on offense in Game 2, and when that happens, you're most likely going to be screwed.
I talked about Carlos Boozer last night, but it bears repeating again. The Bulls should make a concerted effort to get Boozer going early and often. When that happens, Boozer is more likely to stay engaged on both ends throughout the entire game. With Rose out, the Bulls need Boozer to get some offense going in order to carry the load.
Another thing to watch for is how the Bulls adjust to the constant trapping of Hamilton and Kyle Korver. With no Rose to worry about, the Sixers aggressively doubled both guys as they came around screens. The Bulls must figure out a way to counter that, whether it's with slip screens or just hitting jumpers or the point guards being more aggressive.
One intriguing adjustment is playing Hamilton and Korver more at the same time. This has worked well this season (albeit in a small sample size) and if things start going poorly again (aka Boozer stinking up the joint), this may be a decent option. Having two constant motion shooters on the floor together could put more pressure on the Sixers' defense and make them choose who they want to double, if double at all. Of course, this lineup could be a risky proposition as well, as this means that Deng likely plays the four and the Bulls give up their size advantage.
Ultimately, I still believe the Bulls to be the better team in this series. However, if they lose on Friday night, they could be in a world of trouble. Facing an almost must-win on the road in Game 4 without Rose does not sound fun, so grabbing this one would take a ton of pressure off.
Probable Starting Lineups (Playoff Scoring Average)
PG: C.J. Watson (8.0 ppg)
SG: Rip Hamilton (14.5 ppg)
SF: Luol Deng (12.5 ppg)
PF: Carlos Boozer (9.0 ppg)
C: Joakim Noah (16.5 ppg)
PG: Jrue Holiday (21.0 ppg)
SG: Evan Turner (15.5)
SF: Andre Iguodala (11.0 ppg)
PF: Elton Brand (15.5 ppg)
C: Spencer Hawes (3.5 ppg)
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