Philadelphia's poor performance in the opener of their first-round series against the Bulls stopped being the story with 1:10 left in the game when Derrick Rose tore his ACL on a crazy jump-stop in the lane. Rose's absence is certainly an advantage for the Sixers in the remaining games of the series, but he didn't beat them today. The Sixers have a lot of work to do, schematically, on the defensive end prior to game two. (
Here's your rotation chart. Note the starters in the first, and the bench in the third:
Had Rose's injury happened when he was playing any other team in the playoffs, I'd probably feel terrible for him and the Bulls right now. But it didn't. It happened against the Sixers, and it might've opened the door for the Sixers if they can figure a couple of things out. It's bad luck, something we're not unfamiliar with as Sixers fans, the important thing is the Sixers focus on the Bulls they do have to face on Tuesday.
I stepped away from everything for a few hours when the game was over and spent more time than I should have pondering what the Sixers did well in this game. Getting to the line was pretty much all I could come up with, though their rebounding was adequate. Otherwise, this was about as bad as they can play. Jrue and Iguodala both had just horrendous games, really on both ends of the floor. If those guys are going to shoot a combined 10/29 it doesn't matter who suits up for the Bulls. Particularly troubling was Jrue's lapses on the defensive end. He was over-helping and getting lost with regularity. He needs to be better. My eyes may have been playing tricks on me, but Iguodala looked like there was something wrong with his legs. Early on, he had trouble closing out on a Deng jumper, and pretty much the entire game he couldn't keep up with Korver and Rip off the series of screens the Bulls were running him through. Hopefully, my eyes were wrong, because if they can't count on his defense, they're in a bind.
Speaking of defense, the Bulls won this game using mostly the same play over and over again. They'd run either Rip Hamilton or Kyle Korver off two screens, get them the ball about 18 feet from the hoop, and either they'd hit the shot, or turn to the hoop and have their choice of open teammates to pass it to. I grabbed two screen shots to show you what happened:
This first picture is about a second into the action. Iguodala starts out on Hamilton on the weak side of the floor. The big on that side of the floor sets a screen on Iguodala, Rip cuts around him and down to the baseline:
As you can see, Iguodala's in trouble already. He's a good step, step-and-a-half behind Rip before he even gets to the second screen, trailing him. From this position, Iguodala has to make a decision. He can continue to follow Hamilton along the baseline, then fight over the pick he knows is coming from Noah, or he can shoot the gap, cut to Elton Brand's left and try to meet Hamilton at the end of the curl. If he chooses the former, he's probably going to be late to the spot. If he chooses he latter, Rip can eschew the curl altogether and catch the ball on the baseline for an open shot, or even drift to the corner for a corner three. If he shoots the gap and Hamilton doesn't curl, then Rip becomes Brand's responsibility, and Iguodala needs to take Noah to prevent an easy entry pass and a dunk.
This next picture shows the options open to Hamilton after he makes the catch:
As you can see, Iguodala chose to trail Hamilton and he got beaten badly. Of course, it didn't help that he had to fight through a moving screen by Noah, but the result is the same. He's nowhere near Rip when he catches the ball. Take a look at the other four defenders when Hamilton makes the catch. Lavoy is doing his job on the weak side. He's got his man contained, and he's in front of the rim, preventing a lob. Turner is cheating way off Deng, taking a step toward Hamilton from the weak side. Jrue has followed the pass from Rose, has his back to Rose, and he's trying to get to Hamilton to contest the shot. Iguodala is hung up on the Noah screen, and Brand hasn't moved an inch. Brand's feet are still firmly planted in the lane. From this frozen frame, Hamilton can take the open look (which he did), he can swing the ball to Deng for a wide-open three. He can run a simple give-and-go with Rose, who Jrue has completely lost, or he can probably slip a pass to Noah, because Brand is in no-man's land. This is a complete breakdown and the Bulls exploited this defense time and time again with open catch-and-shoot situations, open threes on the weak side, and even a couple of back-doors on the weak side when the big man over there wasn't in as good of a position as Lavoy was in this case.
Stopping this play needs to be the Sixers focus in game two, because without Rose's penetration, the Bulls are going to need to rely on it. The first step is for Iguodala (or whoever is guarding the cutter) to fight through that first screen much more effectively. He can't be that far behind the cutter when he's going under the hoop. If he's right on his hip, it's much harder for Noah to set the moving screen, and the defender has the option of shooting the gap. The second thing that needs to happen is some kind of help from the big man. Had Brand simply shifted to the high side of Noah on the play above, he could've at a minimum slowed Hamilton off the curl and then contested his shot when caught the ball. As for the other two perimeter guys, if they're needed to stop the play, all hell is going to break loose. Turner is coming from so far away, there's nothing he can do, and he's leaving a shooter wide open to even make an attempt to help. If Jrue is trying to double or dig down, he's got his back to his man and again, he's probably going to leave him wide open for a three, or a cut to the hoop. This play needs to be figured out by the small and the big involved in the play.
On the offensive end, the Sixers actually got decent looks when they worked for them. They were able to penetrate and find Brand for easy jumpers, they were able to get cutters into the lane and they were able to get out in the open floor. The problem was finishing, and not even really finishing tough looks. Replace Hawes with a guy who can dunk and you've got about six more points. Take away half of the other blown bunnies and you've probably got another eight. Too many easy scoring opportunities came up empty.
Doug Collins iced Jodie Meeks after he was torched by Rip Hamilton in his first run and you have to assume we'll see Jrue, Iguodala and Turner starting together on Tuesday night. I thought Lavoy played pretty well, but he didn't see a whole lot of time outside of starting the first and the third.
It was demoralizing watching the Sixers close the gap only to see Chicago put their foot on the gas every time, but in the end it was only one loss. Win on Tuesday, and they're ahead of the game.
Player of The Game:
I went with Brand, mostly because his scoring kept them in the game, for as long as they were in the game. His defense on those screens and the pick-and-rolls was very bad, but he blocked 4 shots and battled Chicago's bigs. Turner was a candidate, but he didn't do as much on the offensive end, and was equally torched defensively on several key possessions (three straight times by Rose comes to mind). Could've gone either way, really.
@ Chicago, Tuesday night at 8pm.