DEERFIELD, Ill. — Faced with the prospects of their playoff run ending earlier than expected, the Bulls have the same approach heading into Tuesday night’s Game 5 against the Wizards at the United Center.
“We’ve been in a lot of different situations here. This is a tough-minded team. We know what we have to do. Make our corrections, be ready for the start of the game,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Monday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center. “We’re only thinking about tomorrow’s game. That’s it. Thinking about being ready to go. Take it step by step. That’s what we do. It’s possession by possession in the playoffs. We saw that oftentimes the winning between winning and losing is a scramble play, a loose ball, ball tipped one way and they come up with it. That’s the difference. We’re going to have to find a way to make that happen.”
Facing a 3-1 series deficit after Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 loss in Washington — squandering a golden opportunity with Wizards’ big man Nene suspended for his Game 3 altercation with Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler — the higher-seeded Bulls lost both of their first two games in Chicago to start the first round, blowing their home-court advantage. Heading into the postseason, the Bulls were believed to have a fairly clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals by some observers — awaiting the winner of their series will either be the eighth-seeded Hawks or the reeling, top-seeded Pacers — but now they’re faced with the prospects of their playoff mortality.
“I understand what the playoffs are all about. You’re talking about two evenly matched teams that games could’ve gone either way. You’ve got to make them go your way. They didn’t. But I believe we have a resilient group and I believe we will find a way,” Thibodeau explained. “I’ve been around our team. This team has been up against it for two years. All we’re thinking about is tomorrow win the game. Take it step by step. Don’t get wrapped up in doomsday or any of that stuff. Just think about what we have to do to win.”
Taj Gibson, coming off a career-high 32-point effort in the Game 4 defeat and as optimistic as his coach, added about the Bulls’ chances: “Of course, I think so just because of the year we had and so much preparation coming into the series and guys feeling good. It could’ve easily been 3-1.
“You can’t get your head down. We know we started the game off wrong last game. It’s been like that all series. But you look at how things could’ve went and we could be up 3-1. We gave away two tough ones at home early. We have to put that behind us and looking forward to just trying to get a win,” the sixth man continued. “Just pick up our energy level. Come out with the right kind of spunk. We are giving them too much confidence early. A team like that, you can’t give them confidence. You have to try slow them down any kind of way. Their guards are playing extremely well. They’re hitting a lot of long-range 3s, especially from the corner. It’s tough.
“Just coming out with the right kind of energy. Jumping out on them. Feeding off the crowd. The crowd has been in it for us. They’re going to give us so much. We have to give the crowd a chance to celebrate and a chance to cheer. But we’ve got to do better things. Every time we blew a close lead, it came down to a hustle play from them, a lot of tip-outs, a lot of scramble plays. We’ve got to eliminate that.”