May 4, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call during the second half of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Arena. The 76ers defeated the Bulls 79-74 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Backs Against the Wall: Bulls vs. Sixers Game 4

Bulls vs. Sixers — Noon on ABC

Sixers Lead Seires 2-1

The Sixers have a false sense of inflated swagger with Rose out. When will this Bulls team stop being bullied and punch back? (Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

It’s Game and the Bulls can tie the series with a win, but for some reason it feels like this is it. It feels like the Bulls have already been eliminated and are just going through the motions. There is no Derrick Rose. There is no Joakim Noah. There is seemingly, no hope.

But that can all still change. All year long we watched this team win without Derrick Rose and win when they weren’t supposed to.

Boston. Miami. Orlando. Los Angeles. The list goes on and on. Chicago is the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and are tied for the best record in the NBA for a second straight year. So why does this feel so awful? Why does it feel like the Eastern Conference Finals last year where we were searching for hope and were rewarded with let down?

Where do we place the blame for this? Is there anyone to blame for this?

It’s not Tom Thibodeau, he played Derrick Rose and couldn’t have foreseen the ACL tear. Joakim Noah’s injury wasn’t his fault, what was he going to do, sit Noah in the third? Is it Rose’s injury? Obviously it demoralized this team but they have won this season without him, against the Sixers no less, but they seemingly are using it as a crutch to give up.

Of course this all changes with a win today in Philly. It’s a must win and that’s devastatingly horrific to have to admit. If the Bulls lose Game 4 they will head back to Chicago the understandable laughing stock of the NBA. Everyone knows that they can’t win without Rose but that’s not making things easier to swallow.

It’s the Chicago Bulls, not the Chicago Derrick Rose’s. Is there really a basketball team under the MVP or are people like me who have gone on record to defend them as such stupid for doing so?

It’s Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs — there should not be this many questions about this team this quickly or this early on.

Here’s what the Bulls need to do to win Game 4: play defense.

There is no longer an offensive pulse to this team so we need to stop trying to manufacture one. Points will be scored by the Bulls and to think otherwise is ignorant. But what’s more ignorant is to think this team can survive a shootout. Without Rose they lost all ability to come back, we’ve seen that demonstrated two straight games.

The Bulls blew a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3. If that’s an offensive problem then I must not know basketball. What happens if the Bulls play defense in the fourth quarter? Fill in the obvious blank here.

Philly went on a 20-9 run to end the game. If Chicago plays a little bit of defense and makes that a 15-9 run — if they take away three buckets from the Sixers they win Game 3.

It cane argued that all the Bulls needed was 3 more buckets and they win but you can’t just manufacture something that’s not there. They tried and Luol Deng failed horribly. Rip Hamilton didn’t do much down the stretch in the fourth and Kyle Korver barely saw time.

So what’s the natural evolution of the game plan if you can’t survive a shootout? And I know 79-74 isn’t a shootout by definition, but the Bulls need to take this step by step which means taking it quarter by quarter. In the last two games Chicago has been out scored 101-72. That’s a defensive problem if I’ve seen one.

The Bulls utter lack of defense puts them in a hole, like in the third quarter of Game 3, and then forces them to try and pose as an offensive team. Then you get in a situation where your rotations are out of whack because you need to compensate offensively. If the defense comes around you have no problem and everything falls into place.

It’s a defensive problem through and through and if you say otherwise you must not have watched the game. Forced shots come under pressure when you need to score because your defense didn’t do the job to keep a 14 point lead to allows 36 third quarter points. If the defense gets the job done then the offense has time to get out there and score and not have to back peddle and panic.

If Game 4 goes anything like the last two then this might be the end of a stance year. This never felt like a real year from the beginning. Derrick Rose wasn’t healthy all year and eventually ended the season in a way that cast a definitive theme over the 66 games.

You can blame whatever you want but the fact of the matter remains this: it happened. Oklahoma City is healthy and Miami is healthy. Would this have happened in a full 82-game season — maybe not but we’ll never know which is the point. Let’s not sit here and make excuses as to why things are so bad.

Let’s deal with them like a real basketball team and move forward. The Bulls can do this and it might be foolish of me to still believe in them but there is a strong, powerful and commanding basketball team hiding behind the glazed over and terrified eyes of whatever we’ve seen the last two games of this series.

Chicago can do it, so let’s do it.


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