Bulls Keeping the Hope Alive Through Defense

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer had to step up at some point. Playing without Joakim Noah in Game 5, facing elimination, they finally did, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 79-69 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, keeping the faith and hope alive, heading into Philly down 2-3 in a series that was supposed to go in a very different direction.

But that was before the injuries. There was even talks about a curse. Not just against the Bulls, but against Chicago teams in general. When it’s hard to find an explanation, you clutch and hang on to the most absurd notions. The Bulls didn’t wake up from the moment it was announced that Rose tore his ACL, taking him out not just of the rest of the postseason, but probably the beginning of next season as well.

And then came game 5. An ugly game of basketball if you’re a offense kind of guy. The Bulls shot 41.5% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc; Luol Deng connecting four times with the long range shot. The Sixers were historically bad – 32.1% from the field, but that’s not telling the whole story about their offensive ineptitude or the Bulls’ defense.

This was the fourth time Chicago held an opponent below 70 points in a postseason game. This was only the second time since 1955 (shot clock era) in which the Sixers scored less than 70 points. The Sixers shot 28.8% in their half court offense, the worst out of all the teams so far this postseason. They managed to score on only 22 of their 80 half court possessions.

Maybe it felt like a game the Sixers could afford to lose. They experienced just how bad the Bulls can be without Derrick Rose, now without Joakim Noah as well. This isn’t the regular season, when the Bulls did much better than expected without Rose. But the numbers don’t lie, and with Rose on the court, the Bulls were the best team in the NBA during the regular season. Without him, and they felt much more vulnerable. It’s a bit too soon to say Evan Turner was right, but it’s getting there.

It’s hard to say if it was another wonderful performance from the Sixers defense. They did hold the Bulls on 79 points, but failed on stopping Deng on the perimeter. Doug Collins and his guys had their share of problems defending the perimeter later in the season. Deng scoring 24 points and Boozer added 19. Finally the guys who needed to step up showed up. The Bulls won’t be satisfied with anything less in Philly. Anything less will probably mean the end of the season.

Chances? I wouldn’t keep my hopes up if I was a Bulls fan. The shooting is still terrible, and the Sixers defend and score off their defense much better at home. It’s hard to imagine them doing any worse offensively once again. It’s hard to see the Bulls coming up with something much better. Deng, Boozer and the rest do have potential to do more, but they haven’t been able to for four games now. Hard to see them coming up with some exceptional in game 6 or 7.

Another thing the Bulls can hang on to is  frustration from the Sixers when the game gets physical. Brewer and Turner, Gibson and Brand. Obviously, playing in Chicago and having such an awful shooting night took its toll on the 76ers players. But maybe being very physical early on, setting the tone defensively from the get go, and the Bulls can hope to get their first away win in this series.

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