The Chicago Bulls defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 77-69, sending the series back to Philadelphia and putting the pressure completely on the Sixers for Game 6. The Bulls did this on the strength of a smothering defense which held the Sixers to 69 points and a 32% clip from the field. As you can see from the score, the game was ugly, not necessarily one to stay up past midnight to see.
However, the Sixers were closer to winning this one than you’d think, given the final margin.
The Bulls shot significantly better from the floor and, after trailing in the first half on the boards, came back to even it out in the end. However, they also had their struggles. Luol Deng, who scored 24 points in what was by far his best game of the series, made three buzzer beating threes. All were contested, two quite heavily. The shots reeked of desperation, and they were desperate, as the Bulls were a desperate team and needed those shots to go in desperately. But no matter the circumstances surrounding them, they went in. And they largely made the difference: the Bulls won by 8 points.
The Sixers couldn’t play much better defense on those plays either. Deng just willed those shots to go in, and there’s not much the Sixers could do to stop those. The defense was mostly great. As badly as the Sixers performed on the other end of the floor, they played a terrific defensive game. It’s hard to appreciate it though because the offense becomes painful to watch. And what’s worse is that Chicago played just as well on their end, if not better.
However, unlike the Bulls, the Sixers couldn’t will shots to go in. It may have been a lack of desperation, a lack of will, or it may have just been luck. It may have been a lack of offensive talent, too. But we couldn’t hit our shots, most of which were contested in some way. Even the open shots weren’t great ones, which is part of the plan all along. And when the guys you need to hit open shots, namely Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday, and Andre Iguodala, don’t hit them, the offense produces 26 first half points and 69 overall.
Hawes didn’t hit a single jumper. Brand hit two in the first 6 minutes, none for the rest of the game. And Andre hit a few, but he bricked about 13. Usually, the team will convert a few more of those. And usually, that’s enough to win when holding the opposition to 77 points. They just didn’t actually hit them.
Of course, there are going to be more problems than “not hitting shots” when you score 69 points. Obviously, there’s going to be issues with shot selection and creation. Truthfully, I’d have to pin that on Iguodala and Evan Turner. Iguodala settled for mostly terrible shots instead of going for better ones. Granted, his Achilles cannot have helped, but passing up bad shots for other ones would have. You wonder why he even thought to take some of them.
Meanwhile, Turner had plenty of match up advantages that he failed to take advantage of or really do anything with. He took 7 shots, making just two of them with no foul shots, and it’s not like he was relegated to a corner. He dribbled too much, made too many sloppy plays, ultimately providing nothing to the team. When he plays poorly, when he’s having a bad game, the Sixers offense might as well be 4-on-5. He played so badly, I was actively rooting for more of Lou Williams, because Lou’s always willing to take shots and, without doing anything, would be a threat on the floor. Turner, when he plays poorly, is so bad because he becomes a non-concern for the other team. When he’s not making plays or really trying to, he might as well not be there. He’s not a three point threat because of his limited range, so the defense can then bog down the paint, and the best he’ll do is get two inefficient points (both because it’s a 20-footer and because of his propensity of not making them). The whole disappearing act is a bit disconcerting to me – I had hoped it had gone away because he was given every opportunity to do what he does best. But it reared its ugly head again Tuesday night.
Anyway, the Bulls also struggled for offense. The point guards provided 10 points on 16 shots and struggled to even get the Bulls into their sets. Rip Hamilton‘s got one eye on retirement. Carlos Boozer put up 19 points, but needed 20 shots and committed 5 turnovers in the process of getting his points. They couldn’t buy a free throw, either from the officials or each other when they actually got to the line. Like I said earlier, Deng’s heroics were the difference since they didn’t get much else from their offense.
There were a couple of other relevant events in the game too. Near the end of the second quarter, there was a scuffle involving Brand and Taj Gibson while fighting for a loose ball near the Chicago bench. Both appeared to have possibly throw elbows – Brand looked to have hit Gibson when trying to secure the ball for himself, with Taj retaliating with an elbow to the back of Brand’s head. I don’t think it deserves a suspension, since the Bulls have had to deal with enough anyway, but messing with Brand isn’t advisable. Taj then twisted his ankle later in the game, coming back but with a noticeable limp. He’ll likely play in Game 6 on Thursday.
The Bulls didn’t have as many open opportunities as the Sixers. They really didn’t. They converted tougher shots than we did, they did what they had to do to try and win because they had no other choice. And with a little help from a cold Sixers team, they live onward. Game 6 is Thursday night at 7:00. Let’s close it out.