After looking like an injury-plagued team primed for a first round playoff exit, the Chicago Bulls went to battle in front of their home crowd and pulled out a 77-69 win over the 76ers yesterday to send the series back to Philadelphia. Chicago’s Game 5 victory put the series at 3-2 and helped the Bulls avoid elimination as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
In an extremely low scoring contest, no one really stood out on either side except for Luol Deng, who finally accepted his role as Chicago’s leading scorer with Derrick Rose on the sidelines. Deng led the Bulls with 24 points and eight rebounds after a few underwhelming performances that allowed Philadelphia to grab momentum and three straight wins. So even though Rose is done for the postseason and Joakim Noah sat out for the second game in a row, with Luol Deng taking the lead on offense and knocking down shots, the Bulls stayed resilient and did what they had to to win at home. Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but other than that, it was pretty balanced scoring for the Bulls. Despite tweaking his ankle, Taj Gibson was actually Chicago’s third leading scorer off the bench with just eight points. Gibson left into the locker room but returned to action soon after.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s going to take an even more resilient effort to get a Game 6 win on the road to send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7. Philadelphia has been in complete control in the two games they’ve played at home and if Luol Deng can’t knock down shots like he did in Game 5 it could be all over for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. C.J. Watson can’t shoot 2-for-10 like he did last night. Richard Hamilton has to score more than six points. Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas and Kyle Korver all have to contribute something off the bench. In a low scoring series, every point you get from your reserves is crucial and could be the difference between extending the series and going home empty-handed. However, the good news is that Joakim Noah is hopeful for Game 6, which will almost eliminate Hawes’ production and provide an offensive boost for the Bulls in the paint.
Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 16 points while Lou Williams had 13 off the bench. Spencer Hawes, who had been dominant against the Bulls with Joakim Noah out, met tougher defense from Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and could only muster 11 points. But the biggest killer for the Sixers was Andre Iguodala, who shot an abysmal 4-of-19 from the floor to finish with 11 points. If the Sixers want to close out the series, they’ll need him to shoot the ball way less. Game 5’s disappointing performance just proved that Philadelphia is not a legitimate playoff team, which is what I’ve been saying all along. Without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Sixers were able to seize momentum and a 3-2 series lead and even with that advantage they’re still not guaranteed victory here. The Bulls are resilient and have bounced back, putting some pressure on Philadelphia to close things out at home, which will be more difficult with Noah most likely taking the floor again. If the Sixers don’t take the series at home, they will face the incredibly difficult task of winning a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum going Chicago’s way in front of a rocking Bulls’ crowd. That is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers and if the series does go to a Game 7, you can almost be certain the Bulls will complete the improbable comeback and move on to the second round.