Injury-Ridden Bulls Fading Fast

The biggest disappointment of the 2012 NBA Playoffs so far has been the Chicago Bulls, who are in full collapse mode after dropping a pivotal Game 3 to a very underwhelming Philadelphia team and being crippled with injuries to two star players. Losing Derrick Rose eliminated them from contending for the NBA Finals, but losing Joakim Noah to a sprained left ankle might result in an appalling first round exit.

Make no mistake: the Philadelphia 76ers are not the better team here. The Chicago Bulls have been able to win without Derrick Rose all season, but with Joakim Noah now unlikely for Game 4 and given the way Luol Deng and C.J. Watson have absolutely fallen flat on their faces so far in this series, Thibodeau’s squad is practically handing the series over to a weak Sixers side. Losing Game 2 was unfortunate, but ultimately excusable because the entire city was still shell-shocked to see their superstar’s leg (and their title hopes) crumble right in front of them. Game 3 became a very pivotal contest that would make a statement about what direction the series would take: Would the Bulls show Philadelphia and everyone else that they still deserved to be taken seriously? Or would the Sixers take advantage of a key injury and sneak in a victory at home? Unfortunately for Chicago, when Noah went down in the third quarter, the Sixers were able to rally from a 14 point deficit in the fourth behind Spencer Hawes to answer that question decisively.

With Joakim Noah out, Spencer Hawes had a big fourth quarter and led the Sixers to a Game 3 win.

When you’re giving up fourth quarter rallies to guys who haven’t produced in months like Spencer Hawes, you know you have some issues (with Noah, Chicago’s center, leaving the game injured at the top of the list). Hawes finished with 21 points and nine rebounds after totaling just seven points and seven rebounds in the first two games of the series. With Derrick Rose sidelined, an area where the Bulls should have been able to find an advantage (defense on Philly’s point guards) has actually hurt them. Jrue Holiday had 17, Evan Turner had 16 and Lou Williams had 14 off the bench. And even though the Bulls held the Sixers to just 79, they couldn’t put up enough points on the board to win, being outscored 28-14 in the fourth quarter. Noah’s injury hurt and provided the spark for Spencer Hawes to go off, but Luol Deng has absolutely killed Chicago with his inability to knock down shots (five points in Game 3, eight points in Game 2). C.J. Watson hasn’t stepped in and been a quality backup point guard with Rose out, tacking on 12 points in Game 2 but failing to score in Game 3. John Lucas has been a bright spot, averaging 13.5 ppg in his last two, but it hasn’t been enough to get Chicago a win. What’s even worse is that Carlos Boozer has finally appeased Chicago fans and critics by playing consistently good basketball, scoring and rebounding well night in and night out. It figures it would come at a time when Chicago is missing two of its best players and has little chance of contending for a title anymore.

The Bulls aren’t done yet, but unless they win Games 4 and 5, they’ll most likely be going home early, which is disappointing considering the success they’ve had this season despite dealing with injury problems. Without Joakim Noah, who is a huge part of Chicago’s offense with his interior passing and their defense with his rebounding, I can’t say the Bulls will put up much of a fight. In the playoffs, it’s much harder to weather the injury storm and the Bulls are giving us a pretty clear example of that. This is not a case of Philadelphia playing great basketball and becoming a dangerous team on their way to an upset or anything like that. Philadelphia has simply taken advantage of Chicago’s misfortune as any playoff team should.¬†Evan Turner looks like a prophet after saying his team matched up better with the Chicago Bulls than the Miami Heat; it’s a lot easier matchup when the other team is missing two vital players. Which means the Sixers are not dangerous, they can’t score consistently enough to give anyone else a challenge, and if they advance to the next round, whether they play the Celtics or the Hawks, they will most likely be going home.

Losing Derrick Rose wasn’t a death sentence for the series. But losing Joakim Noah on top of that just might be.

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