As some NBA fans may remember, the Sixers’ and Knicks’ records determined two things: 1) Who would claim the 7th or 8th seed and 2) Who would play the Bulls or Heat in the first round. The Sixers played it smart and lost their last game, while the Knicks won over the reeling Charlotte Bobcats. Some may recall that Evan Turner said he would rather face the Bulls than the Heat in the first round, a controversial comment.
Derrick Rose made him regret those words in Game 1, scoring 23 points with 9 rebounds and 9 assists as his team routed the visiting 76ers squad. But with a minute and a half left in Game 1, and with the Bulls up by twelve, Tom Thibodeau made a huge mistake. He subbed in Derrick Rose to finish off Philadelphia. Moments later, Rose went down, clutching his leg in agony. X-Rays showed a torn ACL; bye-bye Derrick.
Despite Rose’s injury, the Bulls were still heavy favorites to win the series because of their aggression, physicality, tenacious defense, and ability to rebound. The Sixers came back with a blowout Game 2 victory in Chicago, 109-92, thanks to extremely hot shooting (59.0% as a team). They lead by more than twenty at some points in the game.
So, with the series tied at 1 game a piece, NBA analysts and fans started to have doubts about the Bulls. On top of that, the Sixers started to feel confident, having stolen home court advantage. Game 3 was in Philadelphia and was a very close game almost all the way through.
Then the Sixers were given another gift. In the third quarter, Joakim Noah went down in a heap on a fast break. He came up clutching his left ankle. His face showed agony, and after a couple minutes of attempting to play he was taken off the court into the locker room. Nonetheless, the Bulls pulled away in the fourth, fueled by Rip Hamilton and John Lucas.
The Sixers, however, came roaring back and won Game 3 because of a 23-5 run. This victory was accentuated by an aggressive play by Turner under the basket, where he missed and then subsequently rebounded three shots before finally earning two free throws.
Game 4 came and the Sixers went from a team looking for some pride to a team looking to take Chicago by the horns (no pun intended). The odds were in their favor to win Game 4 and the series. Despite a very poor three quarters of play, the Sixers’ were again saved by a late rally, this time featuring two three-pointers from the aforementioned Holiday.
After Game 4, the Sixers were heavy favorites to win the series. They felt good; the Bulls felt sick. Unfortunately, even after Doug Collins and Holiday made it clear that they needed to stay focused, the Bulls held Philadelphia to 69 points on their way to an eight-point win. Luol Deng finally showed up, hitting four three-pointers on his way to a 24-point night.
Now the Bulls have life. They forced a Game 6 in Philadelphia and may get Joakim Noah back from an ankle sprain. They went from being a long-shot to a favorite in the span of three hours.
So, what do the Sixers need to do to win this series? It is actually quite simple. They need to play better than the last three games. You must be thinking: Duh! Allow me to elaborate.
5. No More Turnovers For You!
They cannot turn the ball over on multiple possessions every quarter. Every turnover means an extra possession for Chicago and possibly more unanswered points. With the Sixers already struggling to score in the half-court, turnovers will only exacerbate the problem.
4. Be More Consistent
The Sixers cannot go on these scoring slumps either. In games 3 and 5, they had stretches where they shot 4/23 while Chicago was shooting well over 40%. If they are going to let Chicago score, they need to match them with buckets. Speaking of defense, the Sixers need to keep an eye on Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah when he returns. All three players have some shooting range, but are mostly problems in the paint. If Hawes, Brand, and Young can contain all three players in the paint, the Sixers can and will win this series.
3. That Deng Forward
Andre Iguodala, in addition to hitting more of his mid-range jumpers, needs to keep his eye on Luol Deng because he is now Chicago’s most potent offensive threat due to his shooting and clutch abilities. In games 2-4, Deng shot 10/30 and the Sixers won all three games. In game 5, however, Deng shot 10/19 and the Bulls won by 8. If the Sixers can keep Deng, Boozer, Noah, and Gibson under the radar, they can win this series.
2. Show Some Aggression Offensively
The Sixers also need to force the refs to call fouls. Even though the refs are not calling every foul, the Sixers have no excuse to be taking contested jumpers. They need to be aggressive and get into the paint, forcing the big men to foul. If the big guys foul, they get subbed out and suddenly the paint is open. With that comes the Sixers need for good free-throw shooting. They have struggled in the first half from the line, shooting under 50% in games 3-5.
1. Control the Boards
Last but certainly not least, the 76ers need to attack the glass for rebounds. The Bulls have rebounded extremely well and have gotten so many second-chance points from offensive rebounds. In Game 4, they finally started to control the rebounding flow and took control at the end. If Hawes and Brand aren’t hitting their shots from the outside, they at least need to crash the boards and control the paint.
This series will come down to the Sixers forcing Boozer, Noah, Gibson, and Deng to miss shots. They will need to rebound, be aggressive, get to the paint, AND THEY MUST MAKE SHOTS! If they can play like they did in Game 2, where they’re hitting their open looks, the Bulls won’t be able to compete late in the game.
Game 6 is at 7 PM on Thursday in Philadelphia.