Game 3 winner could take all

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Game 3 winner could take all

As much as I was shocked by the way the Bulls played in Game 2, I will no longer be shocked if they end up losing this series to Philadelphia based on that performance.

But, I'm not predicting doom here. In fact, on paper I still believe the Bulls should beat the Sixers easily without Derrick Rose. The Bulls are one of the best 'bounce back' teams in the league as evidenced by their streak of 86 games - which was more than a year - without losing two in a row. Tuesday's loss was psychological more than physical. It translated to bad basketball, but I'm more concerned about the root of it than the outcome.

I can talk forever about the X's and O's and what the Bulls need to do to correct their missteps from Game 2. It's a long list. They need to force the Sixers into a halfcourt game, take away the transition buckets, play help defense on Jrue Holliday and for Pete's sake rebound the ball.

Find the open man on offense. Even though, the Sixers did a good job of taking away the Bulls pick and roll, there were times Taj Gibson was open. John Lucas III just didn't see him and settled for jumpers. In fact, the Bulls did a lot of settling on offense, shooting ill-advised shots and going one-on-one.

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng need to step up and be leaders of this team, picking up the scoring slack.

Etcetera, etcetera...

It doesn't take a basketball expert to point out what the Bulls need to do on the floor as coach Tom Thibodeau declared on Thursday.

"There's no great scoop in reporting that the Bulls need to get back to defense and rebounding," said Thibodeau. "That's the whole key."

No, the scoop is the Bulls haven't showed the mental toughness they need to proceed without Derrick Rose. For all of their talk about having more than enough to win without Rose, it looks like the Bulls need to convince themselves of that rather than selling us on the idea.

They need to take a page of out Evan Turner's book. Turner made himself public enemy number one in Chicago when he made some pre-series comments about preferring to play the Bulls over the Miami Heat. He was booed mercilessly by the United Center crowd, but it didn't bother him.

In fact, Turner's been getting stronger at every turn, blocking out the negative fan reaction as well as he's been blocking Bulls players from scoring. Even his coach admires the kid's attitude.

"Evan feels like he's the best player in the gym," said Doug Collins. "I love that. I know he made some ill-timed comments. He was booed every time he touched the ball. A lot of guys would cower from that. Evan rises to the challenge. I'm not a big guy in doing a lot of talking, but I like the way he's playing."

Wells Fargo arena is going to be filled with hostile fans taunting the Bulls. How will they respond? Will they rise to the challenge?

At Thursday's Bulls practice, Luol Deng said: "I know everyone cares. We have a team of fighters we have to fight our way out." Did he sound convincing? Is it all just rhetoric? Does Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Rip Hamilton think they are the best players in the gym? If they do, the Bulls have a shot at winning this.

Deng went on to say, "We've been through it before. We've been through tougher things that this."

No you haven't. You haven't been through anything tougher than trying to win an NBA championship without your star. Your MVP.

It is gut check time. Only it's going to have to start between the ears and hopefully that will translate to what the Bulls do on the court.

Game 3 will be the defining moment of this series. Will Philadelphia be stopped in its tracks or will the Sixers deliver the knock-out blow?

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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