This Chicago Bulls season that started with huge expectations has been filled with plenty of trials and tribulations. An embattled head coach, inconsistency and injuries have plagued this 2014-15 campaign, and all three of those problems are again coming to the forefront as the Bulls now find themselves on the brink of elimination after a 106-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
Even after the Bulls beat the Cavaliers in Game 1 of this second-round series, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski fanned the flames of the Tom Thibodeau fire with a column about Thibodeau’s “last stand” in Chicago. It’s pretty common knowledge that Thibs doesn’t have a great relationship with the Bulls’ front office and could be heading toward an exit, but the Bulls didn’t need this extra distraction against Cleveland.
Of course, Thibodeau hasn’t helped himself much with questionable rotations and bland offense. This came from Michael Wilbon’s column at ESPN after the Bulls’ inexplicable Game 4 loss on Sunday:
Throw that onto the general predictability of the Bulls’ offense and they’ve got a mess on their hands. OK, the Bulls missed way too many open shots, particularly point-blank ones, but opposing players throughout the Eastern Conference, even ones who were/are in these playoffs, say they have the Bulls scouted to the T largely because they adhere so strictly to called plays.
“If the Bulls could avoid having all those six-, seven-minute scoring droughts they’d probably be the best team in the league, but they can’t,” one Eastern Conference veteran told me Sunday night. “And we all know every single thing they’re going to run. … Some nights they just execute at a level you can’t stop, but you can’t do that all the time in the playoffs, not against well-coached teams that lock in defensively.”
The offensive inconsistency was once again an issue in Game 5. The Bulls came out firing to start the game behind an aggressive Derrick Rose, but it didn’t sustain and the second quarter was a disaster. The third quarter started similarly to the first quarter, but again, the offensive success didn’t sustain and the Cavaliers built up a 17-point lead. Then Chicago started hitting all of its three-pointers after bricking literally all of its threes in the first half. Only the Bulls couldn’t finish the job.
The Bulls’ offense isn’t the only thing that has been inconsistent this season. The defense hasn’t been up to snuff either, and it was dreadful at times in Game 5. Part of it was LeBron James being unstoppable to the tune of 38 points, but there were far too many other good looks given up throughout most of the game. LeBron and the Cavaliers helped the Bulls out late by essentially shutting the offense down and relying on stagnant isolations, but Chicago couldn’t finish its biggest defensive possession of the season and allowed a key offensive rebound that sealed the game.
Playing into the inconsistency issues have been the injuries. The Bulls had key players going in and out of the lineup all year. Rose had another knee surgery. Jimmy Butler missed three weeks with an injury. Joakim Noah has been a shell of himself all year and is painful to watch offensively. Mike Dunleavy missed a good chunk of time. Taj Gibson has been hobbled throughout the year. It goes on and on. When you continuously have key players missing time, it’s hard to build continuity and gain that consistency that’s usually needed to win an NBA title.
The injury bug has struck again in the postseason. Pau Gasol has missed the last two games with a strained hamstring. Rose dealt with a shoulder stinger in Game 5 that obviously affected him in the second half when he missed his last 11 shots. Noah and Gibson are still dealing with nagging injuries.
Even despite all this, there’s still not much excuse for the Bulls being down 3-2 in this series. The Cavaliers are just as banged up as Chicago, if not more. The Bulls had a commanding second-half lead in Game 4, but they let go of the rope and failed to go up 3-1 in the series. Chicago only has itself to blame for this predicament.
This series isn’t over by any means. Most of these games have come down to the wire, and if the Bulls can get a few breaks down the stretch, perhaps they can win the next two. It’s certainly a long shot to beat LeBron twice in a row in closeout games, but Cleveland is vulnerable.
However, if the Bulls lose this series, expect some major changes in the offseason.