I'm not worried about the Bulls right now. I'm still extremely confident that the Bulls will win this series. I do think the Pacers could take one game (maybe...MAYBE two....maybe). But it is discouraging to see the way they've played in these two games. The Bulls look disinterested, lackadaisical, and bad. There are many things that could be pointed out, but it seems to me that it all boils down to the following:
1) The bench seems to have gone from one of the best in the NBA to bad. There are two things i'm noticing here. One: the bench players aren't playing much, and when they do play they aren't playing well. They also aren't playing as the Bench Mob, as Thibs seems to be done with the hockey subs. The individual performances by our bench players absolutley need to improve. I was hoping that, while the minutes for the starters would increase, we wouldn't have to alter the entire gameplan and rotation. Still do the bench mob thing, keep the same rotations, but give the starters more burn and keep the bench mob out there for less time. This hasn't happened. I don't know if it's Thibs' design, or if it's because the bench players have performed so poorly outside of Korver and in game 2, Watson. We need to get the starters more rest if we're going to go as far as we want.
2) Bogans/Deng forgot how to shoot. Bogans' three point shot had come along towards the end of the year and Deng has been fantastic all season. But then the playoffs start. Bogans doesn't score until game 2, and he only hits one shot. Deng only puts up 4 points in the first half of game 2. Deng and Bogans are our starting SG and SF and we simply need them to be in regular season form. For Bogans, all that means is hit enough shots to keep the defense from ignoring him, and shut down the man he's gaurding. For Deng, it means being the should've-been-an-all-star he was all year. Both players NEED to return to form.
3) Defense. The Chicago Bulls were the best defensive team in the NBA this year. In these first two games, however, our defense looks atrocious. We havn't given up so many wide up shots all season, and it simply needs to change. The Bulls were the best 3-point defense in the NBA, yet when the Pacers go on their runs, it's jumper, jumper, jumper. I really don't understand what happened here, but I have an idea. This goes back to the bench. The Bench was a huge part in our defense. It's no secret that the Bulls starters at times this year have started, well, the way they've started in this series. The difference is when that happened, we'd see the bench mob come in, lock down, and grab the momentum. When the starters came back, they'd seem to be more comfortable and would outplay the opponent the rest of the game. The Bulls need to remember this and consider going back to it.
4) It's the Pacers and the Bulls are barely winning! The Pacers are in the playoffs be default. They had a losing record in the regular season. The Bulls should be winning these games by 20, instead they're scrapping at the end to pull out victories. I understand that Indiana has a very talented front line, excellent jumpshooters, and that they've performed very well under Vogel after making that coaching change. The Bulls are still much, much more talented and as proven in the regular season, the better team. The Bulls are not playing as a 62-win team with home court advantage, they aren't playing like the best team in the NBA, and they sure as heck aren't playing like Champions. There isn't reason to worry against the Pacers because the Bulls can play bad and win. But what about the Miami Heat and LeBron James? The Bulls simply cannot beat a team like that by playing the way the Boston Celtics did to finish the regular season. The Heat thwamped the 76ers after their close game 1, and the Bulls needed to do the same. LeBron James can simply take over a game and might be the best player in the NBA when it comes to controlling a game's momentum. I know Wade is the better closer but in terms of physical intimidation, it's all LeBron. In the regular season, the Bulls had the better supporting cast around Rose. In the playoffs so far, it seems Wade/Bosh/James trump what has turned into Rose/bad. The rest of the roster absolutley needs to pick it up, because if not the Bulls could see something like the Magic saw in their game 1 against Atlanta: the superstar player having a career night, and losing by double figures because nobody else can hit a shot or bothers to move on offense or defense. And that nightmare could happen as early as the second round.
I'm not saying the Bulls will lose in the second round, and i'm praying they wont. But there are some major, major fixes that need to happen fast, before we get a real playoff opponent. Otherwise the Bulls will be much more like the 2009-2010 Cavaliers than we'd like to think: dominant team, by far the best regular season team, and second round out.