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Bulls vs. Sixers, 2012 NBA Playoffs: Loss of Noah weakens inside game, exposes lack of perimeter one

PICTURES AS MESSAGES (Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE)
PICTURES AS MESSAGES (Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE)

This has obviously become a tough watch. It's apparent that while losing Rose killed the Bulls championship dreams, it's the injury to Noah that is sealing them as a first-round exit. It's too much of a talent and effort gap at that point, as Noah was critical to both.

This was frustratingly exemplified by the insane game Spencer Hawes had Sunday, someone who not only can be better defended by Noah, but has his minutes limited if the Bulls have their starting center. I thought Omer Asik did a fine job defending the rim and forcing the Sixers guards to miss a very high number of inside shots, but he was often caught too slow of foot when trying to get out on Hawes on the perimeter. After the game, Bill Lambier on NBA TV called out Asik for having only a single point in his 22 minutes of action. It initially struck me as odd, because during the game it's tough to even think of Asik as a contributor on that end. But it's definitely something rightfully more noticeable in a starting role. Just...a killer to the whole team to get so little production from a position. And the Bulls once again were held to a stand-still with Philly in rebounding (24% OReb% for each), their (old) calling card.

Does Noah's presence help the Bulls awful late-game offensive execution the past two games? Likely not much, but he'd be providing so much help elsewhere that his absence is what can't be overcome by the Bulls. It's especially the case because inside was where the Bulls had the advantage in this series. The Sixers actually have the advantage everywhere else. It's all taken in the context of a Rose-less roster, but it's proving to be true.

Luol Deng suffered a bad fall on his busted wrist and had yet another anemic outing with only 11 points. Rip Hamilton, after playing an out-of-nowhere 42 minutes, was back down to 24 after being effectively benched. Hamilton's gone 11-34 since his great game one, and neither he or pretty much anyone on the team is the type to get foul shots to help make up for poor shooting. My initial recap mentioned the refs but there's something to be said for the differences in personnel trying to get to the line. While Philly was historically-terrible at doing so during the regular season, you can see how between Holiday, Williams, Turner, and Iguodala they have players who should be good at drawing contact. Knowing Joakim Noah isn't in the middle can't hurt either, and while (as mentioned) Asik held his own, Philly did look extremely aggressive in penetrating even if they weren't converting.

CJ Watson rebounded from a terrible 1st quarter (0-7) to at least earn back the 4th quarter PG role from John Lucas III, and having Watson out of his slump can no doubt help things. But he's still a class below what Philadelphia has on the perimeter, and adding Hamilton and Deng to that tier isn't something I was anticipating in this series. Though needing them to be wasn't anticipated, the fact that they've produced so poorly is still concerning for the long-term. Health can explain away some of it, but it may not be something that gets much better considering Deng's upcoming summer and Hamilton's age.

And the short-term impact may be extremely short as it's hard to see where the points will come from. Boozer took it upon himself to try and shoulder more of the load, but it meant needing all of those 24 shots to get to his 23 points as outside style of play is just the way his career is at now. Taj Gibson had a great 2nd quarter stint with 10 straight points and maybe playing him more in place of Asik is the way to go in Game Five. But while the Bulls had the talent edge on the inside, it was not expected to carry the offense this much. Nobody really has a reliable low-post game, and the Bulls guards certainly aren't helping them out an ability to get them the ball. It's not how they designed their team, and it's tough to expect them to change so much, so quickly. That was a concern without Rose, but they could at least rely on winning ugly, low-scoring games. Losing Noah kind of killed that plan B.