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Backup Bulls can't rise up vs. Sixers
Scottie Pippen wrote (supposedly) a long, open letter to the Spare Bulls, telling them they still were the best team in the NBA, even without Derrick Rose. And the Bulls had Rose himself limp out in a full leg brace before the game Tuesday night, Game 2 of the playoffs against Philadelphia. The crowd went nuts.
It was inspirational, motivational, public relational. And then? Well, imagine Knute Rockne giving the win-one-for-the-Gipper speech, and then Notre Dame going out and absolutely getting its butt kicked.
With a city trying to find some hope for its team, the Bulls were crushed 109-92. Reality kept clanging off the front rim. It kept watching Philadelphia speed by for open layup after open dunk.
This was total failure for the Bulls, system failure. They had prided themselves on the play of the other guys all season, winning so often while Rose recovered from various injuries. The truth is, that stuff during the regular season didn’t mean much.
The playoffs are different. The backups and other guys didn’t have their safety net anymore, their knowledge that some day Rose would be back. Someone else has to create scoring chances in the playoffs, but the Bulls treated the rim the same way a dog acts near a vacuum cleaner: emotional and scared to get within 15 feet.
With Derrick gone, do you feel you have to be the guy to get to the basket more, I asked the second-best player, Luol Deng?
“Derrick is not here. So you know, this is a different team," Deng said.’’
But do you feel that you have to be the guy to get to the basket more?
“Derrick is not here. This is a different team.’’
How robotic. The Spare Bulls told a lie all year, although they did it with guts. It’s not their fault. They did their best. But their wins without Rose were not real life without Derrick. Tuesday night was.
Before the game, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose’s injury didn’t have to be a death sentence for the Bulls. But this game was proof that the whole organization is at least at a turning point. After Rose has reconstructive surgery on the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, he won’t likely be back until February.
And even then, will he ever be the same? Those quick bursts to the basket? Will he still throw himself all over the place? The Bulls front office brought in Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer to support Rose and win a championship. They were failed signings. Management has to try again, and fast.
On Tuesday, even Thibodeau, treated as a genius every minute he has been with the Bulls, was outsmarted by Philadelphia coach Doug Collins.
Collins altered his lineup, benched Jodie Meeks after a terrible Game 1, started Evan Turner for his rebounding and Spencer Hawkes for his experience. Meeks guarded Chicago’s Rip Hamilton in Game 1, and Hamilton was great. On Tuesday, Hamilton had four points in the second half, which the Bulls started with an eight-point lead.
The Bulls had no answers. They couldn’t rebound. And a team that lived for defense gave up 36 points in the third quarter. No one would even stand in front of Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday.
“We are capable of playing a lot better than we did,’’ Thibodeau said. “It starts with me. I have to have us ready to play better.’’
Several Bulls talked about this just being one bad game. Maybe that’s all this was. Philadelphia is nothing special. The Bulls might even be able to win the series, which is 1-1 now.
But you have to understand that the talk in Chicago all day was that CJ Watson and John Lucas III, who are very good, could fill in for Rose well enough. The Bulls can beat the Sixers. Boston, in the next round, doesn’t rebound.
Maybe that gets things back to another conference final against Miami. The Spare Bulls beat Miami this year once. The path seemed possible.
And something just seemed hokey and forced about the Pippen letter. Why on earth does someone from that great Jordan era write (supposedly) a letter like that? This team was sold as one that could win a championship, and if these guys actually are champions, then they don’t need a letter from a former era telling them they should still feel good about themselves, and that they’re still worthwhile.
Well, maybe he was just being a cheerleader. It’s possible that Pippen wrote it; it’s in him. But he now works for the Bulls, is paid by them.
This smelled like a stunt, a PR thing.
Whatever it was, it didn’t help. Reality was too much. Game 3 has already been demoted to ESPN2.
When Tuesday’s game was over, Joakim Noah talked about this being a team game, “not about any individual.’’ Kyle Korver sat in front of his locker and said, “We can’t just go one-on-one. We’ve been saying all along we’re a great team, we can’t just ...’’
Sorry, but I lost focus there. In an empty locker a few feet away, red headphones hung on one hook, two pair of basketball shorts on another, two ankle or knee braces on another. And a black-and-white, right shower shoe was on the floor, next to a pile of T-shirts and ballcaps.
Out front, an empty chair. It dominated the room.