The 76ers’ Louis Williams gave the Bulls all sorts of problems in Game 2, scoring 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
AT A GLANCE
G1: at Bulls 103, 76ers 91
G2: 76ers 109, at Bulls 92
G3: at 76ers, 7 p.m. Friday
G4: at 76ers, noon Sun. (Ch. 7)
G5: at Bulls, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday
*G6: at 76ers, TBD Thursday (CSN/TBD)
*G7: at Bulls, TBD May 12
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:39AM
Even after one of the worst losses of their season, these Bulls remain very much in character.
They know who they are. They know what they have to do. Just because they didn’t play like a team with a defense-first mentality in an embarrassing Game 2 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers doesn’t mean they’re going to start searching for answers before Game 3.
‘‘We are a good team,’’ forward Luol Deng said. ‘‘We believe we’re a good team. That’s how we’ve been all year. If you watch the Bulls, that’s how we play. We always play hard. If we have a bad game, we come out the next game and try to change that.’’
That has been the Bulls’ M.O. all season. A team doesn’t go 86 games bridging two seasons without losing back-to-back games unless it has resolve. That lends credence to those who expect the Bulls to regain home-court advantage with a solid performance in Game 3 on Friday in Philadelphia.
But winning regular-season games while waiting for Derrick Rose to return from injury is one thing, and winning playoff games knowing your leader and best player is out for the postseason is quite another. That’s the other school of thought heading into a game that feels more and more like it might decide the series.
‘‘They have the momentum,’’ Deng said. ‘‘They’re going to come out with a lot of energy. It’s up to us to come out, play hard and play our game and not worry so much what Philly’s doing or what they are going to try to do.’’
Rose isn’t making the trip. The emotion that surrounded him tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Game 1
has become a grim reality, and the standing ovation he received from the United Center crowd while delivering the ceremonial game ball before Game 2 is in the past.
Now comes the grind of a playoff series between two defensive-minded teams that often struggle to score.
The Bulls were dominant in Game 1 and were dominated in the second half of Game 2. But they insist the uncharacteristic problems that surfaced in Game 2 are more about what they didn’t do than anything the 76ers did.
No disrespect to coach Doug Collins’ team: They did a lot of things right, especially when it came to beating the Bulls in the three areas — defense, rebounding and effort — that have defined their success under coach Tom Thibodeau.
‘‘We’ve got to play to our strengths,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘That’s what basketball is all about: Play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses. We have to make sure we’re getting back and not putting them in the open floor. To me, that was the biggest thing — their ability to get into the open floor.’’
Thibodeau isn’t about to start tinkering with a philosophy that has helped the Bulls earn the NBA’s best regular-season record in successive seasons. The same goes for Collins, who is similarly entrenched in his own ideology.
With Rose out, whatever talent advantage the Bulls had is negated. The winner of this series will be the team that wants it more.
‘‘We had a real bad third quarter [in Game 2],’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘Way too many baskets in transition. They played harder than us. That’s disappointing.’’
The Bulls must do a better job of stopping the quicker 76ers in transition. The Bulls committed only eight turnovers in Game 2, but the 76ers had 17 more fast-break points. That was a huge point of emphasis during practice Thursday, as was floor balance and improving a defense that allowed the 76ers to shoot 59 percent from the floor.
Then there’s the notion — real or perceived — that the Bulls are suddenly fragile after the loss of Rose and a wretched all-around performance in Game 2.
‘‘There’s a lot going on,’’ Deng said. ‘‘Like I said, it has been that kind of year. Rip [Hamilton] missed games, I tore my wrist and . . . then I came back and now Derrick. So it’s been up and down for the guys, but that’s what it is. We just have got to get on the floor and play.’’