Derrick Rose injures knee late in Bulls Game 1 winContinue reading.
Which Bulls team will show up in Game 3?
Even after one of the worst losses of their season, these Bulls remain very much in character. They know who they are. They know what they have to do. Just because they didn’t play like a team with a defense-first mentality in an embarrassing Game 2 loss doesn’t mean they’re going to start searching for answers before Game 3.
“We are a good team,” Luol Deng said. “We believe we’re a good team. That’s how we’ve been all year. If you watch the Bulls that’s how we play. We always play hard. If we have a bad game, we come out the next game and try to change that.”
That’s been the Bulls M.O. all season. A team doesn’t go 86 games bridging two seasons without losing successive unless it has resolve, giving credence to those who expect the Bulls to re-gain home-court advantage with a solid performance in Game 3 on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.
Winning regular-season games while waiting for Derrick Rose to return from injury is one thing. Winning playoff games knowing your leader and best player is out for the postseason is quite another, or at least that’s the other school of thought heading into a game that feels more and more like it might decide the series.
“They have the momentum,” Deng said. “They’re going to come out with a lot of energy. It’s up to us to come out, play hard and play our game and not worry so much what Philly’s doing or what they are going to try to do.”
Rose isn’t making the trip. Whatever emotion surrounding him tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Game 1 has become a grim reality. The standing ovation he received from the United Center crowd while delivering the ceremonial game ball before Game 2 has dissipated.
Now comes the grind of a playoff series between two defensive-minded teams that often struggle to score.
The Bulls were dominant in Game 1 and were dominated in the second half of Game 2. They insist the uncharacteristic problems that surfaced Tuesday night are more about what they didn’t do than anything the Sixers did. No disrespect to Doug Collins’ team. They did a lot of things right, especially when it came to beating the Bulls in the three areas that has defined their success under Thibodeau — defense, rebounding and effort.
“We’ve got to play to our strengths,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what basketball is all about. Play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses and we have to make sure we’re getting back and not putting them in the open floor. To me, that was the biggest thing, their ability to get into the open floor.”
Thibs isn’t about to start tinkering with a philosophy that has resulted in the NBA’s best regular-season record in successive seasons. The same goes with Collins, who is similarly entrenched in his own ideology.
With Rose out, whatever talent advantage the Bulls had is negated. The winner of this series will be the team that wants it more.
“We had a real bad third quarter,” Joakim Noah said. “Way too many baskets in transition. They played harder than us. That’s disappointing.”
The Bulls must do a better job of stopping the quicker 76ers in transition. Thibodeau’s team had only eight turnovers in Game 2 but Philadelphia had 17 more fast-break points. That was a huge point of emphasis on Thursday, as was floor balance and improving a defense that allowed the Sixers to shoot a whopping 59 percent from the floor.
Then there’s also the notion — either real or perceived — that the league’s most consistent team is suddenly fragile after the loss of Rose and an wretched all-around performance in Game 2.
“There’s a lot going on,” Deng said. “Like I said, it has been that kind of year. Rip [Hamilton] missed games, I tore my wrist and we thought it was for the season and then I came back and now Derrick. So it’s been up and down for the guys but that’s what it is. This is what’s going on and we just have got to get on the floor and play.”