Down 3-1 in the first round, on the ropes to getting bounced by the eight-seed 76ers, the Bulls don't only have no wiggle room -- but may be overmatched with the injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Noah went down hard in a bad way in Game Three, gruesomely rolling his ankle, and missed the Bulls Game Four loss in Philadelphia. The injury will keep him out of Game 5 in Chicago, K.C. Johnson reports:
Joakim Noah ditched his crutches Sunday in favor of a large walking boot to protect his severely sprained left ankle, which also will force him out of Tuesday's Game 5 at least.
Despite coach Tom Thibodeau calling Noah day-to-day and saying he is improving, Noah still can't put full weight on the ankle, which remains swollen.
The Bulls rotated very well to kill paint opportunities in Game Four. But without Noah stretching his defense, the Sixers were able to stretch the floor with Spencer Hawes.
Philly's defense has been little short of amazing. Their feet are constantly active. Their arms are up. And even when the officiating is satisfactory, they rely on each other's help over fouling too well for the Bulls to give up open looks on the other end. Without Noah. this is very tough with Omer Asik on the floor.
Asik is a great defensive center, but his dominance is limited to the painted area. Asik will likely start, but he may get the 'Bogans Treatment' in Game Five.
Hawes doesn't play big enough for the Bulls to need a true center on the floor at all times, given the rebounding abilities of Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer. Taj needs to be on high alert and stretch his own defense for the Bulls to find a win in Game Five.
Lavoy Allen is a placeholder, at best. It isn't optimal, but Taj may need to stay home on Hawes. To prevent dribble penetration, Luol Deng may need to take on that role of defending the paint.
The struggle that this creates for the Bulls is Deng extending his energy defensively, along with Taj extending to stretch his defense and rebound with the need for Ronnie Brewer on the perimeter. The Bulls' scoring options then get limited in a really bad way.
This can all work defensively and the Bulls can still get hit with a loss where neither team scores more than 80 points. Richard Hamilton, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, and John Lucas III will then have to be the scoring leaders from the backcourt -- which Philly is making very difficult, as only ball movement and pick n' roll lapses beat that defense.