If the Bulls can close out this first-round playoff series Tuesday in Game 5, their struggles against the Indiana Pacers will quickly become an irrelevant memory.
To get another victory, though, they'll have to figure out how to stop their offensive production from sliding downhill. The Bulls have scored fewer points in every contest, from 104 in Game 1 to 84 in Game 4.
Their overall field-goal percentage in this series stands at a disappointing .398. After outrebounding the Pacers by 39 in Games 1 and 2, the Bulls' net rebounds were minus-1 in the two contests at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"The playoffs are always tough," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "As great as Boston has been since '08, that was their first sweep (against New York). You've just got to take it game by game. Nothing is given to you in the playoffs."
Indiana used a couple of defensive tactics to help bottle up the Bulls in the last two games. One was to harass Derrick Rose early and often.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who might be MVP of this series, has settled on using 6-foot-8 rookie Paul George most often against Rose. George has used his long arms to deflect passes and contribute to the Bulls' high turnovers in the series (16.8 per game). Indiana also trapped Rose at midcourt more often in Game 4.
The other strategy is to wall off the basket. The Pacers have taken full advantage of their depth, bringing in Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts to deliver hard fouls and make it tough to score near the rim.
According to the stat sheets, the Bulls shot just 38.6 percent in the paint during Games 3 and 4. If the easy shots become difficult, the offense will have problems.
Here are a few suggestions for how the Bulls can solve some of these issues in Game 5:
Keep Boozer out of foul trouble:
Carlos Boozer picked up 2 early fouls in both games at Indiana. He's averaging just 12 points in the series but has shown he can score against the Pacers this season when given an opportunity.
"When he's not in the game, we don't have that post presence and we miss that," Thibodeau said. "The ball has to get into the paint, whether it's through penetration by Derrick or post-up by Carlos. You have to play inside-out; that's how you win in the playoffs."
Let Bogans play a role:
This might seem like a strange request, but one way to counter a team clogging the lane is to pass it back outside for open 3-point shots. When Keith Bogans gets some early looks and knocks down a couple of 3-pointers, it's a sign the Bulls' offense is running smoothly. He has only done that in Game 3.
Another suggestion is to take better advantage of Kyle Korver, who is 8-for-10 from 3-point range in the series. Not free throws, 3-pointers.
Thibodeau laughed at the idea of starting Korver, but it might make sense to give Korver more than the 21 minutes he has been playing. With Indiana using George to defend Rose, it leaves 6-foot Darren Collison to take the other guard and the 6-7 Korver should get plenty of good looks.
The Bulls were just 3-for-20 from 3-point land in Game 4, and Thibodeau thought some were bad shots.
"We started looking for that quick pull-up 3," he said. "That's not the one you want to take, particularly when you're not shooting it well."
Keep the ball moving:
Saturday's second half provided a nice example of how the Bulls can be successful without Rose's scoring.
While Rose hit just 2 of 12 shots, he moved the ball well out of the double-teams and piled up 10 assists against 1 turnover in the second half alone.
Indiana usually sends a big man to double-team Rose. So Noah (12 points) and Luol Deng (13 points) attacked the basket with success off the traps, and the Bulls outscored the Pacers 51-40 after halftime.
Most of that advantage came during the Bulls' late 18-3 run, and they're not about to start pressing early in the game. The point is, if Rose can make smart passes and avoid turnovers, he doesn't have to do all the scoring.