NBA Playoffs 2011: The Chicago Bulls Keys to Winning the NBA Finals
On paper, the Chicago Bulls won easily 4-1 versus the Indiana Pacers in the first round of this year's playoffs. For those who watched the series, it was anything but easy. Four of the five games came down to the final minutes of the game, and the Bulls had to rely on MVP Derrick Rose to save the day.
In their first three games, the Bulls won by an average of 5.0 PPG against a team that won 25 fewer games than them. Yes, the Pacers were playing better basketball under coach Frank Vogel, but they were still just two games above .500 with Vogel at the helm.
Only in the final game of the series did the Bulls show their true colors by controlling the entire game. This 27 point win was just what the Bulls needed heading into the next round versus the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls showed good and bad versus the Pacers, but the Pacers showed the NBA a way to beat the Chicago Bulls. Get the ball out of Derrick Rose's hands, and make other players beat you.
Luol Deng showed his veteran skills, averaging 18.6 PPG and making clutch baskets throughout the series, but more Bulls will need to step up, as it is evident that Rose has just seen the beginning of the double teams.
If the Bulls want a chance to take home the Larry O'Brien trophy, they will have to have consistent play from their stars and improve in a few areas.
The Bulls have battled and played through injuries all season long.
During the regular season, Joakim Noah missed 34 games, and Carlos Boozer missed 23 games.
Fortunately, Derrick Rose has managed to stay healthy (missing just one game) despite being thrown about like a pinball.
The Pacers showed Rose that if he wants to take it to the hole, his strong suit, then he will have to pay for it. Derrick Rose responded by continuing to drive the lane and take the hard fouls like an all-star. Rose shot 87 percent from the free throw line, converting 52-of-60 free throws.
Rose also played through a tough ankle injury that gave all Bulls fans a miniature stroke. The day after the injury, Rose was in a walking boot, but he was still able to play in the next game. When asked about his ankle he replied, "It isn't broken, so I'm definitely playing."
He did appear to have lost a step due to the injury, but he still managed to pour in 25 points in the final game in just 29 minutes. Also, the time off between Game 5 versus the Pacers and Game 1 on Monday night versus the Atlanta Hawks should allow Rose's ankle to heal.
Though Derrick Rose has shown the ability to play through injuries, some of his banged up teammates have not fared as well.
Carlos Boozer has struggled and might miss time due to turf toe, and Ronnie Brewer is clearly not healed from his hand injury that he incurred at the end of the regular season.
The Bulls were able to obtain the best record in the league even though they were injury stricken, but the playoffs are a different animal. Every NBA team is banged up at the end of the season, and the Bulls will not be able to make it to the Finals unless they can successfully play through their injuries.
Shooting Guard Sucess
When a Bulls shooting guard plays well, they win. Unfortunately, the Bull's shooting guards can be inconsistent.
Kyle Korver has played the best of the Bulls' shooting guards so far in the postseason, averaging 10.4 PPG and shooting 58.8 percent from three point range. He is doing exactly what the Bulls brought him in to do: hit clutch threes.
Keith Bogans has been his usual self in the playoffs. Showing signs of greatness sandwiched between disapointing outings, Bogans has been held to zero points in two games and is averaging 5.4 PPG in the playoffs. Although, if you take out his 15 point game, his average drops to 3.0 PPG.
Ronnie Brewer has quietly been the biggest disappointment in the playoffs for the Bulls. Brewer is second to last in scoring on the team and is averaging just 2.4 PPG. I would like to believe that this is all due to his hand injury he suffered at the end of the regular season and he will bounce back in the next round of the playoffs.
The Bulls need to get at least 20 PPG combined out of their shooting guards to take pressure off Derrick Rose and also to keep defenders honest and free up room for Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson under the basket.
Consistency from Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is second in the playoffs in scoring with 27.6 PPG.
Rose has been able to score at will, but he has not done so efficiently. Rose has taken the third most shots in the playoffs with 105, but has converted on just on just 39 of them.
In the playoffs, Rose is shooting just 37.1 percent, which is eight percent lower than his season average of 45 percent. In the 2010 offseason, Rose said he was going to come back next year with a three point shot.
Rose came through on his word, hitting over 100 more three point shots this season than his previous one, but his three point success has disappeared in the post season.
Rose has shot 8-37 from the three, which is good for 21.6 percent, far below his regular season average of 33.2 percent.
Though Rose has struggled with his efficiency, he has shown why he will be the League's MVP because he has been able to turn up his game in the fourth quarter and take over when his team needs him most.
As Bulls announcer Stacey King would say, Derrick Rose is "too big, too strong, too fast, too good" in the fourth quarter.
Derrick Rose has shook off the first round jitters and should pick up his game in the second round. He will need to shoot at least his season average, or the Bulls will run into a lot of trouble against teams more talented than the Indiana Pacers.
In the summer when LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach and Amar'e Stoudemire decided to play under the big lights in New York; the Bulls acquired the talented lost post scorer they had been lacking for years in Carlos Boozer.
The only problem is this low post scorer has not been playing at the same high level in the playoffs.
Boozer has averaged just 10.0 PPG, which is less than Joakim Noah and is 7.5 PPG fewer than his regular season average.
Boozer has been plagued by turf toe, which is a very painful and debilitating injury. Though he is expected to start on Monday in Game 1 versus the Atlanta Hawks, I would not be surprised to see Taj Gibson playing important minutes if Boozer struggles.
Boozer will have to play through his turf toe for the rest of the playoffs, and we should gradually see an increase in his play and minutes.
Carlos Boozer has the ability to take over games and is still rebounding very well despite his injury. His offensive skills and ability to play through an injury will be evident in the next round of the playoffs, when the Bulls really need him.
In the regular season, the Bulls shot 46.2 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from the three. In the playoffs, the Bulls have struggled, shooting 41.6 percent and 35.2 percent from three.
These averages are good for 12th and eighth in the playoffs, respectively.
The Bulls have such tremendous defense which has made up for the poor offensive effort, but again, when the Bulls face tougher competition, they will not be able to pull out wins if they cannot shoot better from the floor.
Derrick Rose's poor shooting has drastically effected the Bulls team shooting percentage, and when he starts shooting better, it will improve the team's percentage as well as freeing up the Bulls other shooters.
The Bulls looked tight through most of their first round series and finally looked loose in their series clinching victory. We will see this looser team that resembled the regular season Bulls for the remainder of the playoffs.
The Bulls have the easiest road to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Bulls have showed they can beat elite competition all season long, and if they can remain loose and confident, then I do not see that changing in the playoffs.
The Bulls are also nearly unbeatable at home. They were tied with the Spurs for fewest losses at home at five during the regular season. So in a seven game series, the away team would have to win on the Bulls home court as well as winning all of their own home games.
The only team that I think is capable of doing this is the LA Lakers, but they will have their hands full in the Western Conference playoffs and are not a lock to make the NBA Finals.
The Bulls have surpassed my expectations this year, and the Bulls have a legitimate and real chance to win the NBA Finals this season.
Derrick Rose and company will lead this historic franchise into a new golden age, starting with this 2011 postseason run.