Bulls: 2012 playoffs
"I'm gunning for it," Noah said recently. "I'm hoping that I'll be healthy and be able to play."
Noah sprained his left ankle in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quartefinals against the Philadelphia 76ers and missed the final two games as the Bulls became the fifth No. 1 seed to be knocked out by an eighth seed.
Noah missed 34 games last season, largely due to a torn ligament in his hand. He also sprained an ankle and missed three games in April, 2011. The ankle had to be re-examined by doctors before he was cleared to play for France last summer.
"I've got to strengthen my ankles," he said. "Too many ankle injuries throughout the years. I've got to strengthen up my ankles.
"I'm just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right. I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody's ankle and landing on somebody's foot, that could have happened to anybody. It's frustrating, but nobody died. You learn from it and move on."
With Derrick Rose out with a torn ACL, the Bulls' frustration was based in the fact they weren't able to see what they could do with a healthy roster.
"I think it's just important for everybody to regroup mentally and to make another run at it," Noah said. "Because you know what, Derrick is going to come back, and it's adversity but it's just another challenge for us like (coach Tom Thibodeau) always says. We are very privileged people, doing what we love to do. Let's just go out there this summer and come back hungrier than ever and make a run.
"I think the unfortunate part of this year is that we don't know, we didn't measure up against the teams that we wanted to measure up against. But I think that, I personally believe that this group could compete against anybody. We had tough breaks throughout the year and that's unfortunate but it's also part of the game. You learn from being injured, you learn from the hard times that will make the good times even better."
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBulls fans might feel a little better about the Game 6 loss if Tom Thibodeau was as forthcoming as Scoop Jackson's version of the coach.
My wish is that he'd have said this:
"First off, we should be playing a Game 7. It's just that simple. You all know it, you all saw it. There's no way in hell I should be sitting up here talking to you about the end of our season tonight, we should be talking about what my game plan is for Saturday. Instead, here we are.
"Bottom-line, Philadelphia should have never gotten the ball back after Omer (Asik) missed those free throws. That foul was either an intentional or a flagrant. The guy wrapped both of his arms around Omer's neck. In every other NBA game, that's a call the ref has no choice but to make. It's in the rule book. It's an automatic call. Two free throws and possession. Game over. You all saw it! Anyway ... I'm not going to say anything further about it because I don't feel like getting fined, and I don't want to get a phone call from Stern's office telling me I'm right, but I should not have said anything about it. This is the NBA, I've been around this League long enough to know that I shouldn't expect anything different.
"Obviously there's a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas," Carlos Boozer said. "I think every team goes through that when you lose. But listen, we were dinged up this year. We were like a car that was missing a few parts at the end of the season, but we were still ticking and going and fighting to get from A to B. We just fell a little short.
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The only thing left now, other than the typically frustrating rhythms of Cubs and Sox baseball and football in shorts, is to dwell on the what if's and what-will-be's.
Here are 10 burning Bulls thoughts sure to bug us all summer:
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After Asik missed his two free throws, Andre Iguodala grabbed the rebound and dribbled the length of the court before being fouled by Asik. He hit two free throws with two seconds left to seal the 79-78 win and 4-2 series clincher.
The reason Iguodala had an uncontested drive was because the Bulls' guards -- C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer -- were out of position and Luol Deng didn't stick with his man, Iguodala, after the free throw.
"That's inexcusable," ESPN analyst and former NBA head coach Hubie Brown said Friday. "You always tell your guys when you're on the foul line, look, you're matching up now. If we shoot and miss, you're matched up with the guy next to you.
"The two guys who should have been back were the two guards, however they set up on the foul line area. Everybody matches up and you play the ball. So when Iguodala went and got the rebound, I was shocked that Deng was nowhere in the picture near him."
And Brown was shocked no one picked up Iguodala as he crossed midcourt.
"Anytime during a game when you have a dribbler coming to the top of the circle, you stop the ball by making the ball change direction," Brown said. "You know how many seconds are left because you just had that pause while the guy attempted two foul shots to communicate with one another, a) on the match-ups, b) where you were picking up. Because you could never assume that he was going to make two fouls shots in that situation."
Bulls color analyst Stacey King said stopping a player like Iguodala was a tough task for Asik.
"You've got a free throw shooter that's under 50 percent so you have to play the odds that he's going to miss, although you hope he doesn't," King said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "But two guys have got to get back. The guards for the Bulls had to get back on that play.
"And the way Philadelphia was setting it up, they were setting it up so they could get a long pass in case they got the rebound. Because neither team had a timeout. It was a bang-bang play, and they didn't get floor balance back defensively. And on one stopped the ball. They left that to Asik, and that's a tough matchup for a 7-footer, to guard that type of player in Iguodala. But it was just one of those things, a couple of late-game mental lapses down the stretch that hurt them."
Will the Bulls make it all the way back and move into the second round? Our 3-on-3 panel debates that and more.
Fact or Fiction: The Bulls will win their series against the 76ers.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAnother big performance like the Bulls got from Luol Deng in Game 5 would go a long way in helping them win the series.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Twenty-four hours ago, I would have disagreed, but like Neo in “The Matrix,” I can see clearly now. The Bulls didn’t really play three bad games, more like four bad quarters. And like Tom Thibodeau said, Tuesday’s ugly win shows Chicago still has more than enough to win with, defensively at least. On this point, I don’t get why Thibodeau went away from Ronnie Brewer in Game 3. Brewer’s length on the perimeter is vital in defending the Sixers’ guards and small forwards, and you saw the result of him getting nearly 30 minutes Tuesday. Brewer played all but 17 seconds in the second quarter, during which Philadelphia scored 10 points on 4-for-23 shooting.
Nick Friedell: Fiction. For as much momentum as the Bulls got in Game 5, it's hard to believe they'll be able to go into a hostile environment and hold Philly to 32 percent shooting again. It's also going to be tough for the Bulls to generate enough offense to topple a Sixers team that knows they must close out the series in Philadelphia. The Bulls players haven't given up all hope, but the absence of Rose down the stretch will prove to be too much.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. The fact that the Bulls finally seemed to overcome the losses of Rose and Noah is big. Now they are back to being themselves, which might not be a good thing for the Sixers. The Bulls knowthey can beat the Sixers and know that they are the better team, but taking two unexpected back-to-back losses of two of the three best/most important players on the team takes time to recover from. The emotional and mental toll alone will cost the greatest of teams at least two games in seven-game series. Now it seems that the Bulls, with the Game 5 win, have not just their legs and their confidence back, but they have their minds back.
Fact or Fiction: All of the pressure is now on the 76ers.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bulls aren’t exactly an upstart team happy to stretch a series to six games. Yes, they’ve been to the abyss and back, but if the Sixers go on a second-half run Thursday, the familiar doubts will creep back in the Bulls’ heads. This is a proud team, and while they love and respect Derrick Rose (not to mention Joakim Noah, who could try to play Thursday on a bum ankle), these guys want to prove they’re not just a supporting cast. Losing a first-round series to a flawed team like Philadelphia would sting, and now that it’s a series again, Chicago’s players have to feel some pressure to take it back to the United Center for a Game 7.
Howard Smith/US PresswireThe 76ers know Game 6 in Philadelphia is a must-win for them.
Nick Friedell: Fact. As Kyle Korver said after Game 5, the Sixers were able to play free and easy because they knew they had plenty of chances to close the series out. Now this young team has a chance to close it out on their home floor. The Bulls have already been left for dead by most pundits so they won't be feeling much pressure at all. The Sixers must show they have matured to the point they can end a series when all the chips are down.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. The one thing an eighth-seed can least afford to do is let a one-seed get a win when they have them on the ropes. The Sixers had the Bulls like Canelo had Sugar Shane last Saturday. But now that Thibs has T.D. Jake’d the Bulls back to life the tables have turned. Now the narrative of the series (at least Game 6) is about the Sixers not losing instead of the pressure of the Bulls winning. But let’s be honest, to say all of the pressure is on the Sixers would be misleading and a little bit of a lie. The Bulls, even with injuries to Rose, Noah and now Taj Gibson combined with C.J. Watson not seeming comfortable running the team, still have pressure on them to win at least one more game. Yes, they will forever be allowed the excuse of injures if they do lose this series, but if they don’t push this series to Game 7, the excuse lose credibility.
Fact or Fiction: Doug Collins has been playing mind games with the Bulls this series.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Collins’ weird announcement of Bulls’ Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson’s heart condition was classic Collins -- too much emotion. Collins has long been known as the basketball version of Dick Vermeil. Michael Jordan supposedly once told complaining All-Star teams that at least their coach doesn’t cry in front of them. Collins has a lifelong bond with the Bulls, and while I’m sure he’d love nothing more than to beat them -- that is the point, after all -- I don’t believe he’s psyching them out with any clever machinations. Unless, of course, he hypnotized Thibodeau into playing Rose late in Game 1, or he telekinetically ripped asunder Rose’s ACL. Then, yes, he’s definitely Dark Phoenix.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesDoug Collins has pulled all the right strings in the 76ers' series with the Bulls.
Nick Friedell: Fact. The lineup switch to put Evan Turner in as a starter has paid dividends for the veteran coach. He has been able to shuffle around his lineup and really take advantage of Rose's absence. The fact that Collins made the public aware of Paxson's heart issue may have seemed like a nice gesture to most, but there were some within the Bulls' organization who were upset that Collins decided to disclose that publicly. Either way, Collins has pulled the right strings throughout the series and now has a chance to get his eighth-seeded team into the second round.
Scoop Jackson: Fiction: I heard this as a point of conversation on sports talk radio and thought it was the most asinine thing I’d damn-near ever heard. And reading it and having to respond to it now, I feel the same way. Look, I know Doug Collins and most of the people in this business in this city who have been doing this for a significant amount of time know him too. They know that’s not even close to the type of coach or person he is. Anyone who believes that about Collins should be ashamed of thinking that he would use his compassion and empathy for the Bulls’ unfortunate series of events -- specifically his personal feelings of sadness watching Rose go down in front of his team’s bench and wanting to go out there to help him -- as a way to motivate his team or use it as a psychological ploy against the Bulls. All coaches in professional sports play mind games. They have to, it’s part of the path to greatness. But to put out there that Collins is using this time and opposing players’ pain to gain an advantage is kinda pathetic.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com, Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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As the rest of his teammates filed out of the locker room on Sunday afternoon after Game 4, Boozer peeled some money out of his pocket to give to the visiting locker room attendants.
"Just so you (guys) know," he said. "We will be back."
At the time, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the young men laughed in his face. After losing Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (sprained ankle) in the span of a week, the Bulls looked emotionally broken as they left Philadelphia down 3-1. Boozer never lost faith in himself, though. He was always convinced that he could have a solid Game 5 and help push the series back to Philadelphia.
It turns out he was right.
CHICAGO -- With the Chicago Bulls on the brink of a season-ending collapse, Luol Deng stepped up and showed he has more than enough ligaments to shoot with.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Tom Thibodeau Coaching Robot’s mantra, “We’ve got more than enough to win with,” you probably didn’t laugh at that joke. If you’re sick of hearing Thibodeau say those words after the soul-crushing loss of Derrick Rose and a mind-numbing three-game losing streak, you probably winced at it.
But ThibsBot doesn't lie. Or if he does, he believes it. The losing streak is over and despite another late Ankle Moment, the half-dead Bulls are still alive in their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers after a non-artful 77-69 win at the United Center on Tuesday night.
Just when everyone had finished their obituaries.
Deng, hampered for more than half of the season with a torn ligament in his left hand, has battled through pain to try and erase any lingering, if not misguided, notion that he’s a soft player. But it wasn't just about Deng's reputation. He wanted to play, rather than get surgery, because Deng knew this was going to be a special season. And it almost was. Now the O'Brien Trophy is out of reach, but the Bulls want to keep playing out of stubborn pride. Forget the beach, give them Philly and then Boston or Atlanta.
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"Yes, it is a close-out game, which is the toughest game in a series to win," Sixers forward Elton Brand said. "After tonight, we will have a little more experience and hopefully we will close them out in front of our fans."
Game 6 is Thursday night, and it's not certain who will be available for the Bulls. Joakim Noah sprained his left ankle in Game 3 and didn't play Tuesday. Taj Gibson rolled his ankle Tuesday, and while he finished, it's not certain how effective he'll be.
"We just need to go home now and be more efficient defensively," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "In three of the last four games they held us under 40 percent offensively. I thought early in the game tonight we were just out of sync. I didn't think we lost any composure out there, even with that scrum at the end of the bench.