3-on-3: Can Bulls get past 76ers?
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.
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.
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.
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.