Bulls Playoffs: Chicago fighting hard
Chicago Bulls Take Games 3 and 4 as They Fight Back to Even Playoff Series; Wheels Fall Off Diesel, Wade Fades
It was Game 4 at the United Center and as the final seconds ticked down, viewers caught an emblematic wide-shot of this dramatic series and its players: On the Miami side, Dwyane Wade and Paytonís hateful stare, and on Chicagoís side, looks of confidence and exuberance.
As the Game 4 buzzer sounded to the delight of a packed stadium and Bulls fans everywhere, sportwriters, NBA analysts and fans alike could utter the words missing from this arena since the Days of Michael: The youthful, quick and gritty Chicago Bulls had added balanced scoring to stifling defense in games 3 and 4 to knot this series at 2-2 and thrust this ingťnue Bulls team into the playoff spotlight.
The Miami Heat could not overcome a superbly coached and inspired Bulls team that appears to be maturing before our eyes on the grand stage that is the NBA playoffs and national television.
Now the Bulls, with a rolling momentum, are perched to grab at least a win when they return for two in Miami, with a chance to eliminate the Heat and crash the party that is the second round of these playoffs.
After Miami picked up two close home wins, the free-spirited Bulls returned to Chicago and by sheer will reasserted themselves back into this series. In Game 3, Bullsí scoring was led by Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni at about 20 points each.
As Chicago attacked Miamiís perimeter defenders, exploding to the rim, Miamiís Shaq and Wade had no answers. Even Michael Sweetney and Luke Schenscher looked good in the post against Shaq in what were his poorest pro games in a while. It further helped that guard Kirk Hinrich did a superb defensive job on Dwyane Wade, who was held to human numbers as well.
Game 4 continued to feature the physical tenacity, scoring and defense of Nocioni, the new face of these can-do Bulls, as well as the leadership, scoring and defense of Kirk Hinrich, his star performance thrusting him onto a track to superstardom.
Yet without the tenacious scoring of Ben Gordon, the so-called little guy with the big moves and big-time shots as well as the contributions of Luol Deng, Sweetney and Malik Allen, Miami would be returning home for a sweep. Hinrichís 27-foot trey with the shot-clock winding down iced the game for Chicago with seconds to go and confirmed coach Riley and Miami fansí fears that Chicagoís explosive rise matched with Miamiís selfishness and divisiveness could mean the demise of the veteran-led Heat.
Going into Game 4, the Bullsí plan was to grab a second playoff game win at home and put the Heat against the wall. The Bulls win effectively doused much of the Heatís hope to end the series in four or five games and gave Chicago renewed hope of taking an away game and getting control of this series.
Going into Game 5 in Miami, the Bulls must maintain their energy on defense with an all-out effort, and on offense continue attacking Miamiís porous perimeter, heading to the rim and drawing fouls. Center-forward Tyson Chandler is hobbling on a swollen ankle and it'll be a game-time decision as to whether he plays.
About Those Draft Picks and Making the Playoffs
In a recent article, I had assumed that making the playoffs would mean one less possible lottery draft pick for Chicago. Yet I learned that the Bulls second pick would be in the teens regardless and that an entry into the NBA championship derby only meant that the Bulls would draw a pick higher. After the coin toss with the Nets for pick #16, which Chicago won, the Bulls kiddie-corp benefit from the experience of being put to the fires of the playoffs while their team still gets to keep their second draft pick. Think this isnít Chicago's year?
The NBA Salivates Over Bullsí Hard-working Talent
So the secret is out: The Bulls possess some of the best basketball talent this side of the Mississippi. From point guard Kirk Hinrich to pesky Ben Gordon to tough-as-nails Nocioni to versatile Deng, the cat is now out of the bag.
Furthermore, the job GM John Paxon and coach Skiles have done to assemble, shape and prepare this team has become the talk of the league. Whether Chicago succeeds in battling its way into the second round or is eliminated by Miami, this season has to be considered a roaring success after the Bullsí strong regular season finish and the challenge they have given Miami.
Draft and Trade Options
There is a debate raging on message-boards and no doubt within Bulls management over the next steps the team must make for next year. Do they move a little furniture around and add a couple free agent pieces like Al Harrington and Joel Przybilla, or do they give up part of their precious core and move Luol Deng or Ben Gordon as part of that big deal to grab a go-to veteran star like Kevin Garnett, Jermaine OíNeal or Paul Pierce?
It seems that this year, virtually all the major free agent talent, especially the restricted agents, appear likely to remain with their current teams. Which is still alright for Chicago. With the emergence of star-level individual and team play of this energetic, athletic and quick Bulls team, I would be surprised if management turned onto the path of trading part of their core of Hinrich, Deng and Nocioni for a veteran go-to star.
The thrilling conclusion to this Bulls season speaks volumes about GM Paxonís decision to trade Eddie Curry to the hapless Knicks for lottery picks and serviceable players. Many who doubted Paxonís decision at the start of the season are now eating their words.
Word gets around. Prospective free agents are no doubt taking note of the Bullsí success.
One key name that the Bulls have their sights set on is Nazr Mohammed of the Spurs. Nazr actually started at center much of the second half of the season. His minutes are still fairly low, and Chicago may be able to add him if they really try.
Check back here at Inside Hoops after Game 5 for more game news and analysis.
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