Luol Deng | AP
What's your prediction for Bulls-Sixers Game 3?
Updated: May 9, 2012 12:02PM
PHILADELPHIA—Luol Deng needs to shoulder more of the scoring load with Derrick Rose out for the remainder of the postseason with a knee injury.
As simple as that statement may sound, it’s complicated by the fact that Deng is being guarded the Sixers’ Andre Iguodala, who is one of the NBA’s best wing defenders.
Deng is also an elite defender, which is why two players who have matched up against each other for years have essentially cancelled each other out heading into Friday night’s Game 3 of the first-round playoff series between the Bulls and Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.
In some ways, that individual matchup has become emblematic of a series between two teams that have become much more evenly matched since Rose was lost for the playoffs in Game 1. That’s why it will likely be decided more by energy and effort than strategy and matchups.
“When you get deep into a series everybody knows each other’s plays, they know what your tendencies are, they know what you love to do,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “It comes down to your ability to execute and not letting a team take you off your plays by force and really the will to win.
“Thibs is a meat and potato guy. He’s not going to come and reinvent the wheel. I’m sort of that same way myself. What he’s going to do is continue what they do and [say] we’re going to do it better and harder. That’s who he is. In playoff basketball, that’s what you have to do.”
Iguodala was limping noticeably after Game 2 because of a strained Achilles’ tendon but the Sixers standout said he feels like he has a “new leg” after two days of treatment, which means he will continue to play a prominent role in a series in which he and Deng have basically cancelled each other out.
Deng is shooting 42 percent from the floor in the series and is averaging 12.5 points. Iguodala is shooting 35 percent and averaging 11.
“We’ve matched up against each other since our rookie year,” Iguodala said of Deng. “We came in together. It’s a lot of fun. Going into every game, I get pretty ticked when he scores and I’m sure it’s the same when I score. That’s going to be a key matchup but at the same time, when we go pick-and-roll, their bigs do a great job of getting the ball out of my hands. When he’s coming off pin downs and he’s slashing I’m looking for my bigs to help when I’m getting picked. It’s like a chess match.”
Said Deng: “This is not a one-on-one thing. It’s not about Iguodala. It’s not about myself. All year, it has been about our team. I’m not worried about any one individual. I’m worried about the Sixers. We just have to beat them.”
With Rose out, Collins said he expects Deng and Carlos Boozer to combine for more shots than the 22 they took in a Game 2 loss.
“They need more from Luol,” Collins said. “They need more from [Carlos Boozer] and Rip [Hamilton] and [Kyle] Korver and the guys who have played off Rose this year. They’ve become more primary guys.”
The Sixers want to play in the open court. They had 25 fast-break points in Game 2. The Bulls need better transition defense, which is why Thibodeau is preaching floor balance, which he claims was his team’s biggest problem Tuesday night.
“When the ball is being shot the perimeter players have to protect your basket,” Thibodeau said. “Your bigs are going to the offensive boards to offensive rebound but your smalls have to protect the basket. If they’re getting three-on-one breaks they’re not doing their job.”
The Bulls want to slow the Sixers down and play more of a half-court game, which would allow them to take advantage of their size inside. Boozer, for one, is hoping for more opportunities to score in the paint.
The Sixers will do everything they can to prevent that.
“We don’t want to get into a halfcourt scrum with Chicago,” Collins said. “They’re bigger and stronger than us. They’re going to want to mash us. The more of an open-court we can make it the better.”
After two games, the Bulls and Sixers know what they have to do, which is why the rest of this series could turn into a low-scoring grind.
For whatever reason, the Sixers wanted it more in the second half of Game 2. The Bulls aren’t used to getting out-hustled and being the less physical team, which is why players are emphasizing a return to the basics.
“We have to be aggressive, man,” Boozer said. “We all have to play with a little bit of an edge. The first game we had an edge and that’s why we won. In the second game we had an eight-point lead at halftime but we didn’t have the same edge in the second half. We’ve got to come with that edge. We’ve got something to prove.”