A week and a half ago, the No. 1 seeded Bulls were preparing for a long playoff run that would start with a mildly challenging series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, they're one game away from being eliminated from the postseason in the first round.
It started with the devastating injury to Derrick Rose who left Game 1 in the final minutes with a torn ACL. The emotional shock of losing their floor leader took its toll in Game 2 and the Bulls got blown out of their own gym.
You can give them that one. An understandable letdown. But the Bulls just haven't been able to bounce back.
Joakim Noah leaves Game 3 with a severely sprained ankle and is lost for Game 4. Suddenly, they look lost unable to execute down the stretch, losing two close games in the fourth quarter.
The past week has been a stunning turn of events. One I asked players afterwards if they could fully comprehend.
"I never thought we would be in this position," said John Lucas III. "It's amazing. It's been one thing after another, but we've been fighting all season long."
"No," answered Kyle Korver. "I never thought we'd be here, but here we are. So we have to find a way to win."
"We should have won the last two games," bemoaned Carlos Boozer, the only starter left who's 'doing his job' as coach Tom Thibodeau would say.
Boozer is right. The Bulls should have won the last two games. Philadelphia is not a good team. I mean no disrespect, but the Sixers are the 8th seed for a reason. Their shooting percentage hovers in the 30-35 percent range for the better part of these games. The Bulls outrebounded them in Game 3 and had more points in the paint. Statistically speaking, Philadelphia hasn't been that impressive in the last two games.
So why are the Bulls down 2 games in this series? Lack of a closer for the most part.
Jrue Holliday hit two big three-pointers in the last five minutes of Sunday's game and the Bulls just couldn't respond. CJ Watson, though he hit two key shots in the fourth quarter, missed five others. Luol Deng hit just one. Rip Hamilton, who was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Bulls in the playoffs only played 27 seconds in the final 12 minutes. Thibs went with Korver instead who ended up missing the two shots he took.
The team that seemed to have so much depth and 'more than enough to win' during the regular season, suddenly is lacking playmakers and shot-callers in the playoffs to finish close games.
You could say the injuries to Rose and Noah has forced other players to fill roles they're not accustomed to, but this isn't baseball. You're not asking an outfielder to pitch or a reliever to play shortstop. Guys should still be able to put the ball in the basket when their number is called. Isn't that how the cliche goes?
However, like baseball the Bulls need a closer and it's becoming painfully clear, no matter how much toughness they show the first 40 minutes of the game, if they blow the save, it doesn't matter.
After watching Game 4, I believe the Bulls won't go down without a fight. But, I also believe without clutch shooting, the Sixers will be punching their ticket to the next round.
A stunning turn of events, indeed.