Adjustments, readjustments. Panic moves. Merciless exploitation of recurring mismatches. The coaches are playing a game of chess while the guys on the court have spent a week beating up on each other, physically and mentally. The fourth installment is upon us, and the Sixers have a chance to take a stranglehold on this series at 1pm.
If you're grading the coaches after three games, Collins has to be way out in the lead. Rose's injury has obviously hurt the Bulls, but they had plenty of experience playing without him this season, and winning without him. Since game one, the Sixers have been able to take away the Bulls' best offensive weapon (Rip and Korver off those staggered screens), they've been able to negate the Bulls tremendous advantage up front, and they've beaten the Bulls in a track meet in game two, as well as a grind-it-out battle in game three. Collins has definitely pulled the right strings to this point, while Thibodeau seems to be trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The Sixers appear to be in the driver's seat, but they've been here before. Twice in the past four years, actually. The came into game four against the Pistons with a 2-1 lead in 2008, and even took a double-digit lead into the half in game four before falling apart. In 2009,
Thad Young Sam Dalembert tied up game four against the Magic with 14 seconds left, only to see Hedo Turkoglu drain a three with one second left to even that series at 2-2. Prior to each of those game fours I remember getting ahead of myself. Thinking about the next round's opponent. Thinking about bigger, better things. Not this year. Not this time.
With or without Joakim Noah, this game is going to be a battle. The easiest way to head back to Chicago tied 2-2 is to underestimate the Bulls. Game three could've easily gone the other way, and as good as they looked in the fourth quarter, they looked worse in the first three. They won that game because they never stopped battling. They never let up. They were on the floor for loose balls (or at least bending over lazily and swiping at the ball, in Hawes' case), they made the extra rotations on defense and challenged shooters, and they were relentless in attacking the hoop and forcing the contact when they needed points down the stretch. They gave hard fouls, they played tough defense. In short, this is the playoffs and the Sixers played like they know what that means. They need to keep that up tonight.
I was expecting an adjustment from Thibodeau heading into game three, namely Deng guarding Turner from the opening tip. We didn't see it, at all, but you'd have to think it'll happen tonight. Iguodala is clearly limited to being nothing little more than a spot-up shooter (and a poor one, at that) on the offensive end, it doesn't make sense to put Deng on him. Deng spent some time in the second half checking Jrue, but I think Jrue is a little too quick for him. Anyone else on Turner is a mismatch, and a mismatch Collins suddenly seems interested in attacking. The Bulls need to take that away. If they do, I'd love to see Igudoala in the post, though I doubt we will.
If Noah is out, it's going to be even more imperative to keep Chicago off the glass. I assume it'll be Asik who gets the start in his place, but even if they go smaller with Taj Gibson, you're still looking at an active offensive rebounder being thrown into the mix in Noah's place. If it's Asik, you can really pack the lane. He's not a threat to hit a jumper, so the pick-and-pop with him isn't really an option. I assume they'll use Boozer in those plays exclusively. He hurt them on those plays the other night, and he's really been a good shooter from mid-range all year.
On the offensive end, I'd like to see them pick up where they left off, with Jrue penetrating to kick or score and Turner attacking the rim. It would also be helpful is Elton Brand didn't finish the game with a goose egg in the points column. He's got Carlos Boozer on him, after all.
The tip is at 1pm. This is your game thread. I'll be right here throughout, living and dying, as usual. Join me if you want to see this team get over the game four hump.
Prediction: 3-1, heading back to Ferris Bueller's home town.