The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls 109-92, tying the series at one and stealing home court advantage from the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls, obviously missing Derrick Rose, had an eight point halftime lead before imploding in the third quarter.
The game was a tale of two halves. The first was mostly filled with frustration, indifference, and Joakim Noah mid range jumpers. The Sixers couldn’t defend the Bulls’ well-executed sets for 24 seconds, and they paid for it. John Lucas III scored 11 points, Noah 14. Rip Hamilton had 4 early assists – Jrue Holiday did a solid job with help denying him shooting opportunities coming off of curls, but his above-average passing ability off those curls really burned us. Noah or Carlos Boozer was open after nearly every catch from Rip, as the Sixers were determined to stop him from scoring.
Noah’s jumpers, meanwhile, all came off of high pick-and-rolls defended by Elton Brand. I didn’t expect the pick-and-roll with Noah to happen much, if only because Boozer, who was also on the court, is generally regarded as a better pick-and-roll big. He’s also a better shooter than Noah. But if Noah consistently hits those open jumpers, someone’s going to have to contest them. There shouldn’t be 3 easy shots in a row available when he’s hitting them.
The Sixers only trailed by 8 because Holiday turned on the jets early and often. He had 17 first half points, more than 3 above his season’s average, and hit all but one of his 8 field goal attempts. His defense on Rip Hamilton was also markedly better than any other match up the Sixers had. Holiday carried the Sixers in the first half, which unfortunately likely led to this abomination of an article from the Daily News’ Marcus Hayes (seriously, either he has a vendetta or wasn’t watching, what a joke).
Then in the second half, nearly everything went right for the Sixers and wrong for the Bulls. Jrue Holiday continued his hot shooting. Evan Turner played solid defense after struggling for most of the first half, and combined with his dynamic offensive play gave us more than a brief glimpse into what he could be. The Sixers stopped everything the Bulls could muster offensively and ran like the wind was behind them back down the other end of the court, scoring almost at will. Joakim Noah was even forced to put the finger guns away. The Sixers finished with 25 fast break points against a team that prefers to slow down the pace without Derrick Rose. The Sixers shot 59% because they had so many clean opportunities at the rim, though Spencer Hawes did his best to lower that percentage.
If the Sixers lost, I’d have spent 1,000 words on how bad Hawes is, by the way. Luckily, that didn’t happen. God, he’s awful.
Thaddeus Young had a below average scoring game, but his second half play was outstanding. One thing that he provides that no other Sixers “big” (I use that term loosely, but he’s rotated in with the centers and power forwards, so he’s one of them for now) can provide is consistently good pick-and roll defense. There’s a lot of ways to attempt to defend a pick-and-roll, and I admit I’m not qualified enough to explain fully, but nearly all of them require a mobile big man to implement effectively. Brand and Hawes are plodding bigs, so dealing with quicker guards and moving great distances on the floor is not a good thing for them. Young can, and it was a sight to behold in this game. If you can see a replay, just watch as he blows up every pick-and-roll run at him in the second half. Also watch for one of the Bulls’ point guards (I think it was Lucas) calling for the big that Young wasn’t defending to set the pick for a p-and-r, only for Young and the other big (either Lavoy Allen or Brand) to switch assignments and for Young to cover the play. The Bulls couldn’t do anything on offense once that happened, especially since Hamilton and Kyle Korver were held down by Holiday’s solid defense. Those are their two sources of offense – once stopped, the well ran dry.
Also, fourth quarter of a blowout? It’s Lou Will time! Lou Williams scored the majority of his 20 in the fourth, when the Sixers were up by 15+. Hopefully, this helps him score some more meaningful points.
Going into game 3, the Sixers seemed to have found a formula to beat the Bulls: Using Thaddeus Young to defend their pick-and-roll attack, using Jrue Holiday to defend the shooting guards, waiting until Noah hits jumpers to start contesting them, and sending everyone possible to the defensive boards, then running whenever possible. There’s obviously more to it than this, and I’m oversimplifying how this can be done, but doing this well can result in a series victory against an admittedly short-handed team.