Down 2-1 going into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls face the prospect of losing three consecutive games for the first time all season.
They are down, but most certainly not out. After all, this is the same team that had the best defense in the NBA all year and the current league MVP in Derrick Rose.
The Bulls problems are not due to a lack of talent but a recent lack of effort. So without further ado here’s five ways the Bulls will even the series tonight in Miami.
The third amigo in Miami’s Big 3 has taken a thrashing in the media for being soft and nonexistent in big games. Most notably a 1-for-18 field goal performance against the Bulls earlier this year had many people writing off Bosh from the trio already.
However, Bosh has excelled in this series tallying a pair of 30-point games. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have done an uncharacteristically poor job defending him, allowing him to carve up the Bulls in the paint.
Simply put, it is unacceptable to allow a team’s third scoring option to score 30 points, especially when the primary two options are LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
Wade and James are going to score their points one way or another, but if Bosh is also scoring a boatload of points, it’s game over for any Miami opponent.
Taking Bosh out of the game puts a lot more pressure on Miami’s top two to score, which plays right into the Bulls hands.
Noah and Boozer are experienced big men and recognize that Bosh cannot continue at his torrid pace.
Expect Coach Thibodeau to drill this message into his players heads and eliminate Bosh’s presence in Miami’s offense.
It’s expected that players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will score points regularly. What separates the Bulls from most teams is the production they get from the bench.
This production has been lacking in the last two games of this series. None of the 2-guard players have been living up to their role.
Kyle Korver’s defensive shortcomings have put him in foul trouble, limiting his shot opportunities. Ronnie Brewer has not been doing much with his minutes and Keith Bogans is really only good for one or two shots a game.
When the Bulls can keep teams honest with their shooting guard position, it opens up the entire offense. The solution to this problem is for the Bulls to try to set up a few plays for these role players and get the Heat thinking about them long enough for Rose and Deng to get on a roll.
If Bogans can hit some shots early he will set the tone. Brewer’s defense and slashing ability can keep Miami’s attention temporarily and the key to this rotation is Korver.
Korver will have to be more controlled on defense and clutch in the fourth quarter.
They did this during the first two rounds of the playoffs and they will need to do so again to win Game 4 and beyond.
Games are often won or lost at the charity stripe. It’s quite clear that in this series Miami has done a better job drawing fouls and making a higher percentage of free throws.
Chicago committed 25 and 24 fouls respectively in Games 2 and 3 as opposed to Miami’s 26 and 17.
And despite having an almost identical amount of fouls in Game 2, Miami made 75 percent of its free throws, while Chicago made a measly 61.5 percent.
A lot of this has to due with the officiating, which can be difficult to predict.
The bottom line is the Bulls have settled for jump shots in situations where they could have driven in and taken a foul.
This team will come out with an aggressive offensive game plan in Game 4. This will inevitably lead to opportunities at the free-throw line. They will have to get back to their postseason average of around 80 percent at the free throw line to ensure victory in Game 4.
In order for this strategy to work it will have to be spearheaded by none other than…
What do all the remaining NBA playoff teams have in common?
They all have superstar players.
Derrick Rose has shown that he can perform in big-playoff situations. He’s never been in a more important one than this playoff series.
Give Miami credit, they have done a good job limiting Rose’s play enough to win the last two games, but double-teams and hard fouls are not a new dilemma for the league MVP.
He has quiet 20-point performances in the last two games going 1-for-6 from 3-point range and an unusually low 13 attempts from the charity stripe.
Much like what Dirk Nowitzki is doing for the Mavericks, the young superstar is going to have to impose his will on the Heat if he wants to play in the NBA Finals.
He has carried the Bulls this far and he will have to recapture the spectacular form he is capable of to seize the momentum in this series.
It sounds cliché and simplistic, but the Bulls mantra all season long has been to outwork their opponent.
It’s the stable of the Tom Thibodeau regime.
They did not win 62 games this season because they shot the lights out every night.
They won because they did not take plays off and because they came flying out of the gate to overwhelm teams.
Anyone who watched Games 2 and 3 could tell that this will-to-win was not there for all 48 minutes. Miami is too talented to allow a consistent lead for the entirety of the game.
The Bulls have failed to be the aggressors at the beginning of the last two games and it has cost them at the close of these games.
This is the NBA playoffs. Intensity is the name of the game and it’s a game that the Bulls have dominated all season long.
There is no tangible way to express this other than the Bulls need to step up and have the biggest sense of urgency they have had all year.
Expect them to rise to the challenge and live up to their coach’s philosophy in Game 4. The Bulls are too proud of a group to let Miami work them up and down the court like they have been doing.
The time is now for this group to make their stand among the game’s elite teams.