Despite injury issue, Bulls aim to close better
CHICAGO (MCT) — Going into Tuesday’s Game 5 of his team’s best-of-seven playoff series with the 76ers, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau wanted to get the message across to his Bulls that they could overcome a Sixers’ lead of three games to one and still win the series.
So he reminded the players that, during the course of two seasons, they had won three games in a row 57 times.
After Tuesday’s victory left the Bulls one third of the way to winning three straight a 58th time, the Bulls said Wednesday that they have shifted some of the pressure to win back to the 76ers.
“Definitely,” Bulls forward Luol Deng said. “We’re in a situation where we know that when we lose, we go home. After (Tuesday’s) game, they are going to feel a little pressure in trying to close it out.
“We’ve got to go out there and take it a game at a time. Look at what we did (Tuesday), what was great, watch tape and come out the same way the next game.”
Despite not having big man Joakim Noah, out with a sprained ankle, in the lineup for the second straight game, the Bulls did what they have done all season. They got aggressive on defense and strangled the Sixers’ prospects for making the Bulls just the fifth No. 1 seed to be eliminated by the eighth seed.
Like Tuesday, Noah’s availability for Thursday will be a game-time decision.
With the exception of Game 2, when the Sixers broke out for 109 points and made almost 60 percent of their shots, Chicago has dictated the tempo with its defense. In the four other games, the Sixers have made just 36.3 percent of their shots.
So good was Chicago’s defense Tuesday that the Sixers, who took 13 more free throws than the Bulls, had just 48 points at the start of the fourth quarter.
However, the Bulls did not get out of Game 5 unscathed. Reserve forward Taj Gibson, maybe the Bulls’ most physical player in these playoffs, twisted his right ankle in Game 5 and was clearly favoring it after the game. Gibson recorded four of the Bulls 11 blocks, scored eight points and grabbed seven boards.
The Bulls did not say what his status would be for Game 6. However, Gibson gave the impression on Tuesday that he would do everything in his power to play Thursday and force Game 7 in Chicago.
“I’ll do everything in my power to play,” he said. ‘I’ll have all summer to lay back at home.”
Meanwhile, Deng said the Sixers can expect to see the same defense they have seen for the better part of the series on Thursday. The only difference, said Deng, is that the Bulls, despite their shortness of healthy bodies, will try to close the game better.
“We’re not so worried about coming out and playing hard. The main thing we have to worry about is closing out the game and finishing,” Deng said.