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Steve Aschburner

The emotional uplift of Derrick Rose's pregame presense did not carry over to Game 2 for the Bulls.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Bulls lacked execution in heavy-hearted Game 2 loss

Posted May 2 2012 11:19AM

CHICAGO -- Emotion is good. Execution is better.

If the Chicago Bulls thought the emotions swirling inside their arena Tuesday -- swirling for a while anyway, then nose-diving hard -- were going to carry them through the playoffs, through a series or even through a single game, they were wrong. As wrong as could be in their Game 2 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night, when a few minutes of home emotion got turned upside-down by the visitors' stubborn adherence to execution.

Emotion is a Red Bull, a wake-up call, a pinch, a Taser zap. It's not a business plan. It's not a game plan. It's nothing to rely on across 48 minutes, never mind four games out of every seven. Emotion won't deliver 13 players, a half-dozen coaches and millions of fans through eight weeks of the NBA playoffs. Or six or four or maybe now just two.

The Bulls had been one big bundle of emotion in the first 77 hours or so after Derrick Rose's Video sad, stunning, postseason-ending knee injury in Game 1 -- from Rose's crash to the court in the next-to-last minute of Saturday's matinee to tipoff at United Center Tuesday. But they were the ones who crashed in Game 2, their thoughts and sentiments, dreams and fears, anger and resolve and adrenaline ultimately taking more than they were giving.

The tone was set, unintentionally, when the Bulls organization had Rose limp out to midcourt right after introductions to tote the game ball to the referees. He wore a black Bulls sweatsuit, a nasty hip-to-ankle black brace on his left leg and a forlorn look on his face that revealed not only his heartbreak but that of some 22,000 people standing at their seats at that moment.

Trouble was, in punctuation terms, it was a period, not an exclamation point, certainly not an ellipsis. It said everything about what was done and over for the Bulls this season and nothing about what they still might be able to eke out. As Rose hobbled across the court, a vision in black setting a mood to match, headed to the helplessness of a private suite, it was as if a black cat had strolled across the UC court. You know that cat -- the one that's such a big part of the Chicago sports scene. It rooms up in Wrigleyville with a billy goat.

Of course the menagerie only matters when the folks in charge allow it. Coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls players want to honor their fallen teammate by beating the Sixers, by pushing through the playoffs as far as they would have with Rose involved. That means they have to do all the things they would be doing anyway, plus a little more. Instead, in this one, they did a lot less.

"We got our asses kicked," center Joakim Noah said.

The numbers that Chicago put up defensively in Rose's absence, the ways in which it all fell apart -- 59 percent shooting by the Sixers, outrebounded by six, 36 points allowed in the third quarter, 25 points off fast breaks -- could build a pretty persuasive case for Rose as Defensive Player of the Year. And that's about as uncharacteristic as the Bulls have been all season. Their bedrock is defense and rebounding, and for the worst time if not the first time all season, they seemed to fret over missed shots and thwarted possessions when they should have been getting back and clamping down.

"It was bad," swingman Richard Hamilton said. "Defensively, we have to get better. We have to talk, we have to communicate a little bit better. That's something we've been doing all year -- ain't no way we should have got away from it tonight."

Forward Kyle Korver said the Bulls felt "angry, really frustrated for sure" with themselves. "We feel there are certain things you can control and certain things you can't control in a basketball game, and some of the things you can control, we did not control," Korver said. "We had good energy, especially in the second quarter, and then it ... "

Then it came down to execution. The Sixers played with a confidence that eventually turned into a swagger, both of which were absent from Game 1. As badly as they felt for Rose, his season ended by the torn ACL, they knew their task had gotten -- sorry, Doug Collins, have to say it -- not just different but easier. Instead of sending traps at Rose so far from the basket, they could stay home. Or deploy the manpower and effort in different ways, making life tougher for shooters Korver, Hamilton and Luol Deng.

The Sixers' romps in transition were by design too -- Philadelphia isn't effective if it settles into a half-court approach -- but only possible if Chicago is inattentive, distracted, hung over from several days of doubts and disappointment or looking for help that won't be limping through that door. Rose visited with his mates and even said a few syllables to them before and after the game -- he had come in for treatment necessary before his surgery can be scheduled.

But Noah (21 points, 10-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists) was the only Bulls player who truly honored Rose with his play, and he's an emotionally driven sort in the first place. John Lucas III scored 15 off the bench to make up some ground in the point-guard matchup in which Jrue Holiday (26 points) crushed Rose replacement C.J. Watson. As for Deng (eight points, 3-of-12) and Carlos Boozer (nine points, 4-of-10), yes, they were focal points of Collins' defensive scheme. But, c'mon, All-Star caliber players get game-planned for every night. One or both of them should have been offering teammates rides on their backs. It didn't happen.

"Everybody has the right intentions on this team," Noah said. "That's why we're the No. 1 seed. But we've dealt with a lot. We've dealt with a lot of adversity. There's really no excuses at this point. We've got to fight, though."

The Bulls have to put away feelings and play the sort of basketball that got them through this Rose-riddled season. No one in Philadelphia is going to be feeling sorry for them Friday night, and fewer in Chicago will be if they think again that energy and emotions can get it done.

At this point, execution is their MVP and he wasn't around Tuesday at all.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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