CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls argues with referee Derrick Stafford #9 as Carlos Boozer #5 and Richard Hamilton #32 listen in against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 28, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 103-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Doug Thonus at Bulls Confidential lays out a case of the Bulls still going very far in the playoffs, at least through Philadelphia and whoever wins between Atlanta/Boston. It's the equivalent of the "more than enough to win" mantra of Thibodeau, citing their frontcourt and improved play of Rip Hamilton as primary reasons this team is still quite good.
And that's all true, though if you had any reservations of a Bulls team not being as good as their regular-season record then you'd definitely feel that way about the non-Rose version. The loss of a closer is significant. The Bulls can still be in every game with their defense, rebounding, and improved 3-point shooting, but now we can see more variation in the results without Rose in late-game situations. It's one thing to believe in the diversity of a ball-movement offense, but another to see that work against playoff defenses when hero-ball becomes even more prevalent.
I'm not sure I share Doug's 'think tough' mentality when it comes to the fanbase and this team. This is something he said even more strongly in his recent podcast, going so far as to say if the Bulls lose this series (or badly in the next) then it shows a lack of toughness by the rest of the team.
I'm, in contrast, a total weenie, so this from Kelly Dwyer rings true:
Without attempting to get into Chicago's head, it's fair to wonder if the team doesn't take well to the news. Throughout the season, though Rose was clearly hurting from ankle, toe, mid-foot and (most severely) groin injuries, the Bulls banked on the knowledge their MVP would return at some point. Nobody doubts the mettle and professionalism of this Bulls outfit, but we wouldn't be wrong in doubting the legs that are running underneath broken hearts. In a minute, it was over. And there's a game on Tuesday. That's a heavy burden.
Though an easy schedule aided in the 76ers' start, they bounded out to a 10-3 run to begin 2011-12. When there's a spark there, and especially while playing against a starless team not unlike themselves, the 76ers could mount a turnaround here. The Boston Celtics might be next in the second round, and the Sixers took two of three from Boston this year. They know this could be a chance.
...On paper, and allowing for past history, the Bulls will battle and make Chicago proud. But we wouldn't think twice about putting our collective arm around the remaining Bulls if the team just isn't up for it. There's a reason they call it a "gut punch." It's supposed to knock you down.
The Sixers have talent, and even if they had given up on their coach and eachother earlier this season, it's possible between being in the playoffs and having this opportunity to advance they'll be re-focused. There were signs from game one that the Bulls will still look very good without Rose, but others signs showing that the Sixers can compete: Elton Brand was open all day, they were forcing Noah out to force the Bulls (namely Boozer) to make extra rotations. They shot dismally from three all day which may be a spot of their own improvement. We've seen over 2 seasons how their effort and athleticism can give the Bulls fits.
The Bulls still rolled in game one, obviously. But I think their roster, and maybe even their internal fortitude, may not hold up for too much longer after what happened to end that game and their championship run. They're talking tough, because they have to and they are legitimately wired that way. But that doesn't mean if they fail I'll think they were weak.