Down But Not Out: One Game At A Time

"You have to focus on what you can control, how to play your minutes better, how to help your team, how to give your all."

By Sam Smith

Larry Bird’s not walking through the door when the Celtics are in the United Center Friday to play the Bulls in Game 6 of the first round playoff series. Marc Acres is not walking through the door. Neither are Henry Finkel, Greg Kite, Kevin Stacom or Steve Kuberski. Not that the Celtics really need any of them at this point with a 3-2 lead in the series.

Rajon Rondo for the Bulls is walking through the door. Unfortunately, for the Bulls he’s not walking onto the basketball court.

“Nothing has changed,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said about Rondo’s fractured thumb and aching wrist Thursday in a conference call with media. “Rajon most likely will come in and workout tonight. But like we talked about (Wednesday), it’s still a long shot that he’s back on the court, at least in this series.”

And so Isaiah Canaan will get his second career playoff start after a pretty good first one, scoring 13 points, four in the fourth quarter—four more than Jimmy Butler—and harassing Boston star Isaiah Thomas into six of 17 shooting and one of 10 threes. That proved a lost opportunity for the Bulls in Boston Wednesday when the Celtics were the friend of the deer. They’d have been fortunate to hit the ocean with a cannon ball. They were nine of 40 on threes while the Bulls shot 50 percent, their second game in the series shooting at least 50 percent.

But the Bulls collapsed in a fourth quarter of Boston pick and rolls, a quarter most foul for the Bulls with a half dozen Bulls turnovers, two Bulls technical fouls for referee interaction and 11 Boston free throws. It was 29-16 Celtics that put them on the verge of moving into the conference semifinals with one victory.

“We had a really good thing going with Rajon,” Hoiberg reminisced about the 2-0 Bulls series lead. “Our flow was excellent. Our pace was really good. We got the ball down the floor early and got quick strikes before the defense was set. Obviously, the dynamic of our team has changed with Rajon out. We played quite a few stretches last night---really the majority of the game---without a true point guard on the floor. That’s just the reality of the situation we’re in now. And it’s probably going to be that way for the rest of the series.

“We’re still confident,” Hoiberg insisted. “It’s 3-2. There are three series in the same situation, teams going home and hopefully holding serve and forcing a Game 7, where anything can happen. Got to go and continue to fight and find things that made us successful. I thought we were really good, especially offensively, for the majority of the first three quarters. Have to continue to do the things that we had success with. We have to have pace, even though Rajon isn’t out there. We still have to continue to get down the floor and get into our actions with plenty of time on the shot clock. It has changed obviously with Rajon being out. But it is what it is. And we’re going to continue to fight.”

Yes, it’s backs to the wall time.

But they're still very much alive.

They actually control their own destiny.

They're not just happy to be here.

This team has a chance to do something special.


It's do or die.

They're behind the eight ball.

They're in a must-win situation.

They need a win to stave off elimination.

There's no tomorrow.

If you lose, you go home.

They’re down, but not out.

A win will force a decisive seventh game.

Don’t tell me I can’t get one of those big time TV jobs with that repertoire of astute and penetrating analysis.

I’m still looking for a hat to take off.

Hey, did I miss, “All in.”

It is now more about simply outplaying the other guy, especially because the teams even with Rondo out are relatively even in talent despite the seeding of Boston being first and the Bulls eighth. Competing harder is more on the agenda for the Bulls, especially, because the Celtics have mostly outcompeted them. Despite being smaller, the Celtics had a 15-4 edge in second chance points in Game 5 and 17-10 in Game 4. That’s fairly inexcusable against a team not only smaller, but going smaller and replacing Amir Johnson with leprechauns.

The Celtics had more offensive rebounds in Game 5, and over the last two games combined have more offensive rebounds than the Bulls. Tough to accept for a Bulls team that was among the league leaders all season. The Celtics ranked in the bottom third of the league this season in offensive rebounds.

There was plenty of criticism of Waldo Butler after Game 5, Bulls lead scorer Jimmy Butler with 14 points and zero in the fourth with two shots. But it really was hardly him to blame. Boston was outworking the Bulls, and without Rondo and no true backup point guard and Dwyane Wade handling the ball, Butler often was the decoy because Boston was sending two players at him every time. Plenty of open shots. Someone make one.

“At the end of the day we all want to win, so you can’t say we played great through three and then let up in the fourth and took the L,” Butler opined late Wednesday night as he received post game treatment on his knee. “You want to play great through all four and win. But I’ll take our three quarters; we have to be better in the fourth. It’s important everyone plays hard (Friday), sticks to their strengths and does what they do on both ends of the floor. Dwyane had a great game. He was getting everyone involved and he was making shots. We need that, especially coming forward on Friday.

“I’m good,” Butler insisted about his lower extremeties. “Everyone is a little nicked up; I’ll be all right. Missed some shots in the fourth; got a little stagnant. I like getting everyone involved; if somebody else has it going, then we have to feed him. Everybody, myself included, have to be better on Friday. We have to go out and win. At the end of the day, that’s the only way to stop the momentum. Then come back and finish it here (in Boston).

“We’ve been kind of lazy at times on our defensive rebounding and they get a lot of second chance points and kick out threes,” Butler agreed. “Everyone has to get that ball and when you get it, hold onto it, don’t let anyone else have it (the Bulls had several rebounds literally just snatched away). It don’t matter the matchup, lineup. No matter who is on the court none of that matters; it’s a must win more than ever now.”

Hoiberg confirmed Butler has some physical issues.

“He’s got some soreness,” Hoiberg said. “There’s no denying that. Jimmy is a warrior. He’s fighting through it. He’s going to continue to do so. He’ll get treatment around the clock. He’s done a great job of being diligent with his treatments. Jimmy did have the ball in his hands some in that fourth quarter. But obviously, the ball was (primarily) in Dwyane’s hands a lot. He’ll get treatment a couple of times and hopefully will be good to go once seven o’clock rolls around.”

The Bulls have fundamental flaws, especially without Rondo. Their pace of play slows. They’ve averaged fewer than 97 per game the last three, all losses, 10 points fewer than in the opening wins. Wade was terrific in Game 5 with 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists even if he’s not doing any defensive clinics anytime soon. The Bulls primarily run pick and roll offense. They focused to get mismatches for Butler in Game 4, and he had 33 points. They then focused to get Wade in those situations, generally against Thomas, in Game 5 after Wade had four generally average games. They needed to increase Wade’s production. Now they need both of them.

There are plenty of need tos now, also.

They need to get more from Nikola Mirotic, six of 18 on threes the last three games, shooting 28 percent on threes in the series. They need to get more from Bobby Portis, six of 15 shooting the last three games and averaging about four points. They need to get more from Paul Zipser, averaging five points the last three games. They need to go into Robin Lopez more earlier in the game and protect him or remove him for those Thomas pick and rolls late in the game that Al Horford turned into 11 fourth quarter points in seven minutes in Game 5. They’ll probably take another look at Anthony Morrow after he had eight points in 16 minutes in Game 5.

“Those (Boston) guys want it,” said Wade. “You could see it, a few rebounds in this series where they came from the three-point line and they've taken it from us. It has to be more for all of us. Me being the first one; we let it happen. We all got to do a better job of understanding in this moment to value the ball a lot more. Now that I'm the point guard, it has to be led by me. I've got to be better.

“You can't think about one game from elimination. You have to focus on what you can control, how to play your minutes better, how to help your team, how to give your all. Focus on the game at hand."

Dwyane Wade

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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