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posted: 5/7/2012 9:56 PM

Yes, there are ways Bulls can extend series

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  • Taj Gibson and the Bulls look to keep their season going past tonight's Game 5 against the 76ers at the United Center.

      Taj Gibson and the Bulls look to keep their season going past tonight's Game 5 against the 76ers at the United Center.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Sixers on closing it out

 
 

When the Bulls fell behind 18-8 in the first quarter of Sunday's Game 4 loss at Philadelphia, ABC put a camera on the visiting team huddle during an early timeout.

Coach Tom Thibodeau could be seen and heard yelling at his players, "Where's the fight? Where's the fight?"

It was a legitimate question. Things might seem hopeless for the Bulls, playing without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and trailing the 76ers 3-1 in this first-round series, but there are endless examples of how they can play better.

At this point, they can either fight or fill the suitcase for summer vacation. If the Bulls don't win Game 5 at the United Center, a season that carried championship aspirations will be over.

"Right now it's live or die. It's win or go home," Richard Hamilton said Monday at the Berto Center. "It makes the game more challenging.

"It makes it better, I think, because you're not looking to another game. This has to be the game or if you don't (win), you're going home."

Noah is doubtful with a badly sprained left ankle, which happened in the third quarter of Game 3.

"He's a little bit better," Thibodeau said. "He'll be game time, most likely out."

It's easy to say the Bulls would have won at least one of those games in Philadelphia if Noah hadn't rolled his ankle. But even while missing the MVP and a second starter, the Bulls had plenty of chances to win on the road.

This series can be saved if the Bulls are willing to make the effort. Here are some recommendations:

•Show some life at the opening tip.

For whatever reason, the Bulls were lethargic in the first quarter Sunday and ended up trailing 24-15.

They were pounded on the offensive boards. First-time playoff starter Omer Asik would typically contest a shot, force a miss, and the other four Bulls just stood around watching some Sixer grab the offensive rebound and put it back in.

The Bulls recovered quickly enough and opened a 6-point lead in the third quarter.

If they'd come to play early, they might have been in the same spot as Game 3, with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, they scored enough points to hold a lead, but not enough to rally from behind.

If they can't muster a sense of urgency in Game 5, they never will.

•Simple plays can be effective on offense.

One legitimate complaint from Sunday is the Bulls drove to the basket, created contact, and couldn't get any foul calls.

Replays backed up Carlos Boozer's claim that he got fouled on a potential tying layup attempt with just more than a minute remaining.

A few minutes earlier, C.J. Watson appeared to get hit in the head twice when he missed a shot and grabbed his own rebound but was called for a bizarre kicking violation instead.

The thing is, if the Sixers are packing the paint with defenders, the Bulls could drive and dish instead of trying to draw contact. A good example is when Kyle Korver hit Taj Gibson for a baseline jumper that made it 74-73 with 4:33 left.

Also, pick-and-roll plays were effective late in the game, with Watson sticking a couple of jumpers, getting fouled or feeding Boozer in the post.

Just don't forget to look for that extra pass.

•Watch the late-game defensive lapses.

The Bulls can scratch their heads all day over Philadelphia's 16-0 advantage in free-throw attempts in the final two minutes of Game 3 and 4. The best remedy is to hit some shots and play with a lead.

The key sequence in Game 4 was clearly the back-to-back 3-pointers by Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, which gave the home team an 80-73 edge with 3:34 left.

On the first one, Sixers center Spencer Hawes set a high screen. Gibson, who was guarding Hawes, hesitated for a second before jumping at Holiday, who hit the shot over Gibson's hand.

On the next trip Holiday waved off Hawes and signaled for Elton Brand to set the screen. As Watson was picked off, Boozer, who was guarding Brand, never came out, and Holiday hit an uncontested 3-pointer.

It's possible the Bulls planned not to switch on the screens, because until that point in the game, all of the Philadelphia guards were shooting poorly, especially Holiday, while Hawes was knocking down every jumper.

After a timeout, the Bulls went back to blitzing Holiday off the screens.

Another bad sequence came with just more than two minutes left. The Bulls forced a missed shot by Andre Iguodala and Korver had inside position for the offensive rebound but let Brand take it away.

Given a second possession, Lou Williams found himself matched against Korver, and when he started to drive, two Bulls defenders stepped over to help, leaving Hawes open for an easy lay-in.

The Bulls may not get very far in the playoffs without Rose, but they're not dealing with a superior opponent here.

The 76ers struggled deep into the fourth quarter to pull out close wins in Games 3 and 4 against a team missing two starters.

If the Bulls can turn up the intensity and avoid repeating their mistakes from last weekend, they could easily keep the season alive.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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