AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 23: Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates after the play against the Orlando Magic in Game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills on April 23, 2003 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Pistons won 89-77. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2003 NBAE (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)
Updated: June 9, 2012 8:12AM
The Bulls hoped to benefit from Rip Hamilton’s playoff wisdom, but they didn’t expect his experience of once being down 3-1 in a first-round series to come in so handy.
If the Bulls can’t match what Hamilton’s Pistons did in 2003, when they won three in a row to eliminate the Magic, their season will be over.
“It’s been a crazy year, from beginning to right now, so we know that,” Hamilton said. “We know that nothing’s easy. It hasn’t been easy for the whole season, with injuries and guys being out, so we know it’s going to be tough. We’ve just got to come out and be ready to play.”
If the Bulls are to extend this series, they’ll need to play with more energy in Game 5 Tuesday at the United Center than they did in the first quarter of Game 4. They must offset what has become a huge 76ers advantage at the free-throw line. The 76ers have shot 30 or more free throws in three of the four games. They only did that four times all season.
They’ll need to play better down the stretch.
“The thing they’ve done that has hurt us is they’ve gotten timely offensive rebounds late,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes, that’s the difference between winning and losing. We have to find a way to come up with that loose ball, that offensive rebound at the end of the game. Our team has shown we can do that. We’re capable. We have to play a little better. We have to find a way.”
Hamilton didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Games 1 and 2 and played only 27 seconds in the fourth quarter in Game 4.
With Derrick Rose out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Joakim Noah unable to initiate the offense from the high post as he often does, the 76ers are focusing their defense on Hamilton, who was held to seven points on 3-for-9 shooting with one rebound and one assist Sunday.
“Every time I come off a pick-and-roll, they double,” Hamilton said. “Every time I come off a pin- down, they double. When I try to post up, they try to bring another guy and double. But it’s one of those things that now, for me, you’ve got to make plays for your teammates, and when guys get the ball, they’ve got to step up, and that’s what the game is about, trusting your teammates.”
The Bulls need something to rally around if they’re going to get back in this series. A win in Game 5 would put pressure on the 76ers to close it out Thursday in Game 6 in Philadelphia.
Tracy McGrady provided motivational fodder in 2003 after he talked about how he was glad to be in the second round of the playoffs before Game 5. The Pistons won the next three games by an average of 20 points.
“We kind of took that personal,” Hamilton said. “Right now, it’s personal. It’s not just about business. It’s not just about showing up, playing basketball. It’s personal. This is it. You can win and continue playing or you can go home.”
The 76ers haven’t provided any bulletin-board material, so Hamilton has produced his own rallying cry.
“The one thing I’ve told them already is just believe,” Hamilton said. “We believe. We get one game, and the series could change easily. Just as easy as they came out and won three games in a row, we can do the same thing, but it starts with us. If we believe, anything can happen.”