|76ers vs Bulls boxscore||Pace||Eff||eFG||FT/FG||OREB%||TOr|
Well, they can't all be victories, even at the United Center. But I won't deny that I felt all game, and certainly when the Bulls pulled within 5 on a Korver shot from behind-the-backboard to end the 3rd quarter, that they'd come back.
Why not? They'd started out similarly slow in their past two games, only to have the defense lock down and Rose lead them to victory. Tonight it proved to be a hole too deep, and the comeback came up short (to the point of unraveling there in the final couple minutes). Thibodeau tried going to the bench early, using a lot of Watson+Rose, playing Rose the whole 2nd half...but while at points the Bulls looked better, they weren't getting enough results to re-take the lead. Even in a sequence where they'd force some tough looks from Philly, the Sixers would hit a 3, or be able to create something off of transition.
As we look at the bigger picture*, maybe it's time to focus not how they've kept coming back, but how they're falling behind in the first place?
(Discounting the Bogans...thing, as it's just always going to be there.)
The Boozer-Noah frontcourt is still not looking great, and it's not just cohesion, as even individually they don't look all the way back to their pre-injury forms (both are lacking their usual level of explosiveness, though Noah looks a bit closer to form). It's hard to separate what could be their own health, and what is a product of the lineups they're in.
Boozer's defense at times was simply awful, and it's becoming a trend recently to not expect the Bulls to really crank up at that end of the floor until Taj Gibson comes in. You can even argue that they're simply a better team with Taj instead of Boozer, getting a league-leading defense and then exclusively relying on Rose to score or create every single basket. And damned if the guy doesn't come close, but even with his own stretches of brilliance (31 points) when attacking the lane (done exclusively after going 0-3 from three) it's just not sustainable, and proved to be too predictable to defend tonight, as the Sixers packed in on Rose and forced him into 10 turnovers.
Even if they are better with Taj, Boozer's paid to be a big-minute and big-production player and get this team's offense above average. Him+Noah has to be worked out, not abandoned. It'll take more experience with both players together on both ends of the court, but also a concerted effort from the Bulls to actually work to get Booz the ball in the paint where he can be effective. Not only would it alleviate some of the pressure from Rose (and he himself has to be a part of this) and get higher-percentage looks, but also slow the game, and turnovers, down.
Beyond Boozer waving and yelling his way through a defensive rotation, the Sixers overall did expose some Bulls vulnerability in being inferior athletically. Until leaving the game early in the 4th, Thaddeus Young proved too big for Deng and too fast for any other big. Omer Asik looked like a man with nobody to defend all night. As a frontcourt unit they had a rare night of not being able to control the defensive glass. And Kyle Korver was being relentlessly attacked when he wasn't fouling his way to the bench. Korver had no logical matchup on defense and the Sixers made sure to work whoever he guarded, whether right at him or having Spencer Hawes pick him and slipping for an uncontested jumper. As usual, Korver's best defense is when he's making enough shots to stay on the court, but when he doesn't I worry when it comes to matchups, especially in the playoffs when considering wings like Pierce/Allen or Wade/James.
With Korver and Boozer, the Bulls crunch-time lineup doesn't look as formidable defensively as the full team that rides a full bench (and a full season schedule) to that #1 statistical mark. Which works out fine if both are making the offense more dynamic than the Derrick Rose show to counter that difference, but only then.
The positives are still there, of course, and showed why the losses have been so few, and the aforementioned weaknesses relatively minor. They did show effort and stretches of great defense in coming back, and Rose showed that same mentality that he had in Milwaukee, just didn't get the same result. They were 1-9 from three and 18-30 from the line, which is a bit of a fluke.
With the defense and Rose clicking, this is still an incredibly formidable team. But that doesn't mean there aren't things to still work out.
*to that the big picture, perhaps even more important than how the Bulls are playing, is getting that #1 seed and more favorable matchups. The Bulls are now 1-5 against the Sixers and Knicks combined. Luckily, the the Celtics lost in Indiana.