Five points in the last 9:34. I repeat. FIVE points in the last nine minutes and thirty-four seconds of the game. You can analyze everything you want, but that one stat is why the Chicago Bulls now find themselves down 2-1 in their first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Because of that drought, the Bulls blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead and lost Game 3 79-74 in stunning fashion.
I'm still struggling to comprehend what just happened at the Wells Fargo Center. I knew the Bulls would have their offensive struggles without Derrick Rose, but I did not think they would be quite this miserable without him. When the Bulls had that 14-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I honestly thought the Bulls had this game in the bag. The defense was playing great and the offense, aided by some stellar work on the glass, was doing just enough to maintain a comfortable cushion.
I was sorely mistaken.
There are plenty of adjectives you could use to describe the Bulls' offense down the stretch of this game. I really don't think I can pick one. It was that horrible. Because C.J. Watson decided not to show up at all, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to stick with John Lucas III at the point down the stretch. And Lucas, bless his heart, simply cannot be relied on to close out playoff games. He's a third string point guard for a reason, and it showed big time in the fourth quarter. Thibs will probably get killed for not going back to Watson, but what part of CJ's zero points in 20 minutes was going to do any better? And Mike James certainly was not likely to be the answer either.
With Lou Williams and Evan Turner hounding Lucas, the Bulls' fourth quarter offense was pretty much killed the moment they crossed half court. JL3 was completely incapable of getting the Bulls into their sets, although I'm not exactly sure what those sets were. Half the time (or maybe more than that) it seemed like Lucas just dribbled around at the top of the key and either waited for somebody to move or just went iso because he had to. Luol Deng looked physically incapable of shaking Andre Iguodala. Kyle Korver could not hit a shot. Carlos Boozer – despite having a relatively good game overall – airballed open jumpers. And Rip Hamilton was getting double-teamed every single time he tried to come off a screen. Everything the Bulls tried, the Sixers had an answer for.
And this is where we get back to the Rose injury.
I hate making excuses for losses. But right now, it's apparent that the loss of Derrick Rose has crushed the Bulls. With Rose out, they have nobody to turn to when the going gets tough. This current group consists of a bunch of nice role players, but in the playoffs, that's not going to get you very far. Again, John freaking Lucas III was the centerpiece of the Bulls' offense in the fourth quarter. It was a fun story when he was making circus shots over LeBron James in the regular season, but in the playoffs, you need that superstar to go out and make those plays when the rest of the team is floundering. Rose not only can get easy shots for himself, but he can get easy shots for others as well. You could probably count on one hand how many "good" looks the Bulls got in the fourth quarter on Friday night.
Making matters even worse for the Bulls is the fact that Joakim Noah may be done for the series. Noah turned his left ankle badly in the third quarter (seriously, ankles should not turn the way Jo's did) and would leave the game moments later (also, how nice of the Sixers fans to cheer the injury). For some reason, he would return to the game early in the fourth, despite the fact that he could barely run down the floor. He was removed from the game rather quickly, but the fact that he was allowed back in the game in the first place is almost indefensible. Thibs will and should get a lot of heat for this, but it baffles me that the training staff allowed this to happen in the first place. With all that's gone down this year on the injury front, I would almost guarantee that somebody on the Bulls' training staff loses their job in the offseason.
Noah's official status going forward is still unknown, but he left the arena on crutches and according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, a stress fracture is not being ruled out. If that were to be the actual diagnosis, I might just cry.
The Bulls are now in serious trouble. Before this debacle, I 100 percent thought that the Bulls would still win this series. But thanks to this collapse and the likelihood that Noah is out, I sadly cannot envision the Bulls winning this series. They are both physically and mentally beaten up, and the Sixers are riding high with confidence. While I will never completely count this team out, I'm not going to lie to myself and say I feel good about where all this is headed. It really is a shame, because this team had a chance to be something special.
Game 4 is on Sunday at noon and is now essentially a must win if the Bulls want to advance. All we can do is hope for the best.
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