Time for Bulls to fight

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Time for Bulls to fight

I took in the sights of Philadelphia Saturday during my down time. Having never been to the city, I thought a trip through the historical district would help take my mind off the Bulls playoff predicament. It did.

But then I decided to run up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The same steps Sylvester Stallone famously conquered in the movie Rocky. I was immediately taken back to the Bulls. Never, has the symbol of Rocky seemed more appropriate as the Bulls face an uphill climb in their series against the Sixers, down 2-1 and having to play without Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah who sprained his ankle in Game 3.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah was 'most likely' out for Sunday's Game 4, but any one who's seen enough ankle sprains like this in basketball knows he's probably out for the season. Noah hobbled through the lobby of the team hotel Saturday needing assistance from his mother to get up the stairs. He declined to talk to the media, but the pained expression on his face said it all.

Now, the Bulls are without their best rebounder, best interior defender and best big man playmaker. That's on top of losing their best scorer and all around playmaker in Derrick Rose. Don't forget, Rose and Noah were the emotional leaders of the team, as well.

It's like asking Rocky to beat Apollo Creed with one arm tied behind his back.

Is it doable? It depends on whether or not Thibodeau will finally recognize the dire nature of the circumstances. Show his players a compassionate side so he can re-ignite their fighting spirit. Thibs reminds me of the Drago-like machine, repeating the same mantra in robotic fashion.

"When one guy goes down, another guy steps up," says Thibodeau. "We have more than enough to win."

I must break him.

The problem is players are human beings with different strengths, weaknesses and levels of mental toughness. You have to be able to motivate from a psychological stand point as well as from an X's and O's stand point. It's what made Phil Jackson so effective. It's the whole premise of the movie. Physical training or preparedness isn't the only factor in success.

It worries me when Thibs says 'it's not about their mood' when asked about the team's state of mind after Game 3. He softened a bit when asked again and responded with a different mantra, one Bulls fans want to hear.

"We have an opportunity rise and that's what we all have to do. Obviously, there's always disappointment when you lose. That's a good thing. It tells you you have the right players. The big thing is how we respond to have the determination tomorrow to get the job done. I want us to have great fight tomorrow."

Yes, fight Rocky-style. The No. 1 seed has become the underdog in this series. They've been hit hard, but they have to get up. They have to be unafraid of the moment.

The players say they're not feeling sorry for themselves, now they just have to play like it.

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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