Bulls' defense comes unglued in Game 2 blowout

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Bulls' defense comes unglued in Game 2 blowout

Coming off a Game 1 win in which they mostly dominated the action, then watched superstar Derrick Rose suffer a devastating, season-ending torn left ACL injury, the Bulls vowed to play with the same ferocity they did when Rose was absent for approximately half of the regular season. During that time, they achieved the leagues best record for the second consecutive season.

Well, the plan worked for a half Tuesday night, before the Bulls succumbed to a barrage from the 76ers, falling 109-92 in Game 2 of the first-round series, which is now tied at one game apiece.

Despite Roses injury, the home team and its supporters had ample reason to be in high spirits, as the reigning league MVP surprised fans by presenting the game ball to the referees at the outset of the contest before watching his teammates from a luxury suite in the arena. Without the All-Star point guard, the Bulls exemplified balance in the opening period, as all five starters got on the board.

Former All-Stars Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton were especially active in the early goingthe latter dished out four assists, perhaps compensating for the absence of Roses playmaking abilitywhile Joakim Noah (21 points, eight rebounds, five assists) brought his typical energy, All-Star Luol Deng displayed his versatility and fill-in starter C.J. Watson ran the team well.

Meanwhile former Bull Elton Brand, less-than-beloved Chicago native Evan Turner (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists), point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, six assists, 11-for-14 shooting, 3-for-3 from three-point range) and rookie reserve Lavoy Allen (11 points, nine rebounds) were each effective for the visitors, but the Bulls held a 28-25 edge after a quarter of play.

Philadelphia proved that while Roses injury was the story in Chicago, they were more concerned with evening the series and stealing home-court advantage, as Holiday continued to do damage with his penetration and finishing ability, not to mention the Sixers as a whole getting out in transition. At the same time, the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic scoring droughts and appeared generally listless.

To cure their woes, Noah was inserted into the contest and immediately made an impact, particularly on the offensive end, where he was effective off the dribbleincluding making Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young look silly with a dynamic in-and-out moveand knocking down his unorthodox Tornado jumper, complete with his trademark finger funs celebration.

But the star of the quarter was fan favorite John Lucas III (15 points, four assists), who notched 11 points and three assists, finally getting the partisan audience to respond in a manner worthy of the contests magnitude and helping the Bulls take a 55-47 lead into the intermission.

After the break, Philadelphia stormed back behind Holiday, whose torrid outside shooting and dynamic finishing gave the Bulls fits. With Turner, his backcourt mateSixers head coach Doug Collins inserted the West Side product and center Spencer Hawes into the starting lineup for Game 2, giving the visitors more sizeshowcasing his all-around skills and Brand popping out for mid-range jumpers, the Sixers went on a 17-6 run to start the third quarter to seize the lead.

While Watson bounced back from a previously dreadful period to help stem the tide for the time being, it didnt last long, as Philadelphia got out in transitionAll-Star swingman Andre Iguodalas monster dunk, plus the foul, hushed the crowdand Turner found his rhythm. With the games momentum dramatically shifting, aided by multiple dunks in both transition and even against the Bulls set defense, the Sixers lead ballooned, putting the hosts in a 83-69 hole entering the final stanza.

Philadelphia continued to pour it on at the outset of the fourth quarter, dominating the Bulls vaunted defense in the paint and scoring on the break, as the likes of reserves Young, Allen and Lou Williams (20 points, six assists)the Sixth Man of the Year candidate and his teams leading scorer during the regular season found his offensive game and torched the Bulls in a variety of ways, from alley-oops and transition layups to contested pull-up jumpers and tough finisheswere all major factors.

As the game shockingly headed toward blowout status, the United Center crowd voiced its displeasure with the home team and a portion began to exit midway through the period with the Bulls deficit hovering around 20 points.

The energy that marked the Bulls regular season without Rose in the lineup simply wasnt therethat held true for the fans, tooand there would be no miraculous comeback, as the Sixers just isolated their preferred matchups and successfully attacked one-on-one off the dribble.

Now, after giving up home-court advantage in the series, the Bulls must look in the mirror and determine how much fortitude they have after taking a beating, then go on the road and win in a hostile environment.

Bulls Talk Podcast: What went wrong for the Bulls against the Mavericks?

Bulls Talk Podcast: What went wrong for the Bulls against the Mavericks?

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Justin O'Neil assess what went wrong for the Bulls in their Tuesday-night loss to the Mavericks and wonder why the Bulls struggle against good teams but win against the league's top teams.

Also, the guys discuss whether the Bulls are over reliant on isolation plays for Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade in the fourth quarter. And, Robin Lopez says he might start taking 3-pointers. What does Kendall think about the new era of the stretch five?

Plus, Kendall shares which NBA city was the biggest road party scene, and the guys discuss the possible comeback of Ben Gordon.

Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Forty-three games into the season and the Bulls are still struggling with focusing on a consistent basis, specifically against lower-tiered teams.

That's according to center Robin Lopez, one of the few Bulls who did show up in their 99-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Though buzz words such as energy, effort and consistency can be cliche for a team over the course of an 82-game season, where lulls are bound to occur at one point or another, question marks regarding those traits have followed them all year.

Tuesday night marked the Bulls' 12th loss against a team with a record below .500. They are the only of the current 16 playoff teams with a losing record (9-12) against sub-.500 teams. That .428 win percentage is far worse than the .703 win percentage the remaining 15 playoff teams have against such opponents.

"I really think it's an issue of focus," said Lopez, who had 21 points and five rebounds in 36 minutes against the Mavericks. "I think against the good teams we've displayed that focus. We're a little more keen because we're afraid of losing to good teams. There are moments I think where we take certain situations for granted and we have mental lapses.

"I'm not going to go out there and question anybody's effort," he said. "I think we're all busting our asses. But focus is something a little bit different. That's something all of us can be a little bit more consistent with."

Those inconsistencies that dropped the Bulls (21-22) below .500 for the fourth time this season are more frustrating because of their continued successes against the league's elite teams. Just 43 games in, the Bulls have wins over Cleveland (twice), Toronto, San Antonio, Memphis, Utah and Boston.

"We're afraid of losing to good teams in a good way," Lopez clarified. "I think it's a good fear. You go in against the Cavs or somebody, the champs, and you have that fear in your gut. That's a natural instinct. That's a good fear to have because it drives you to stay focused and to be prepared.

"I don't think we have that fear or level of respect at times for other (lesser) opponents."

Focus may be a factor in the Bulls' recent woes against bottom feeders, but so too has production from the second unit. A year-long issue reared itself on Tuesday when the reserves lost the lead in the second quarter that allowed Dallas to take a lead into halftime. The reserves shot 8-for-23 and had almost as many personal fouls (14) as they did rebounds (16) in 90 combined minutes. Though Doug McDermott tied the game at 96-96 in the final minute, the second-quarter struggles from than unit loomed large in a game that was decided in the final seconds.

The bench has been a bit of a revolving door in the past few weeks. With both Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic battling illnesses, and Taj Gibson missing Tuesday's contest with a sprained ankle - he'll play Friday in Atlanta - Hoiberg has had to adjust on the fly, and playing time has been sporadic because of it.

"We do have so many young guys on that bench, and all of them at some point over the course of the year have given us good minutes," Hoiberg said. "You've just got to try to find the right combinations to put out there. It's something that we'll continue to juggle until we find the right group and the right mix out there coming off the bench."

Still, little victories like the Bulls fighting back in the third quarter from 13 down and eventually take the lead early in the fourth quarter proved to Hoiberg that there's enough talent on the team to show it on a more consistent basis. With seven games against teams with winning records before the All-Star break, the Bulls will need to show that effort more frequently as they fight for positioning at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"Keep working on it, keep harping on what's important out there. And again, (in the) second half we did it. I told our guys they screwed up. They showed me that they can do it," Hoiberg said. "It's 48 minutes, it's consistency. And we'll keep working on it."