I took in the sights of Philadelphia Saturday during my down time. Having never been to the city, I thought a trip through the historical district would help take my mind off the Bulls playoff predicament. It did.
But then I decided to run up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The same steps Sylvester Stallone famously conquered in the movie Rocky. I was immediately taken back to the Bulls. Never, has the symbol of Rocky seemed more appropriate as the Bulls face an uphill climb in their series against the Sixers, down 2-1 and having to play without Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah who sprained his ankle in Game 3.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah was 'most likely' out for Sunday's Game 4, but any one who's seen enough ankle sprains like this in basketball knows he's probably out for the season. Noah hobbled through the lobby of the team hotel Saturday needing assistance from his mother to get up the stairs. He declined to talk to the media, but the pained expression on his face said it all.
Now, the Bulls are without their best rebounder, best interior defender and best big man playmaker. That's on top of losing their best scorer and all around playmaker in Derrick Rose. Don't forget, Rose and Noah were the emotional leaders of the team, as well.
It's like asking Rocky to beat Apollo Creed with one arm tied behind his back.
Is it doable? It depends on whether or not Thibodeau will finally recognize the dire nature of the circumstances. Show his players a compassionate side so he can re-ignite their fighting spirit. Thibs reminds me of the Drago-like machine, repeating the same mantra in robotic fashion.
"When one guy goes down, another guy steps up," says Thibodeau. "We have more than enough to win."
I must break him.
The problem is players are human beings with different strengths, weaknesses and levels of mental toughness. You have to be able to motivate from a psychological stand point as well as from an X's and O's stand point. It's what made Phil Jackson so effective. It's the whole premise of the movie. Physical training or preparedness isn't the only factor in success.
It worries me when Thibs says 'it's not about their mood' when asked about the team's state of mind after Game 3. He softened a bit when asked again and responded with a different mantra, one Bulls fans want to hear.
"We have an opportunity rise and that's what we all have to do. Obviously, there's always disappointment when you lose. That's a good thing. It tells you you have the right players. The big thing is how we respond to have the determination tomorrow to get the job done. I want us to have great fight tomorrow."
Yes, fight Rocky-style. The No. 1 seed has become the underdog in this series. They've been hit hard, but they have to get up. They have to be unafraid of the moment.
The players say they're not feeling sorry for themselves, now they just have to play like it.