No matter how impossible it is for my mouth to say these words, they are correct: the Sixers could be one win away from advancing to the second round over the Chicago Bulls by this time tomorrow. A 3-1 series lead is just 48 minutes from becoming reality, and with news that Joakim Noah is likely out for Game Four, the odds are ever in our favor.
Derrick Rose is easily Chicago's best player, but Noah is the one that worried me the most coming into the series, and he has not disappointed. In three games, Joakim shot 19-26 from the field for 45 points and tacked on 28 rebounds, 9 assists (to 1 turnover), and just 5 personal fouls. He's been an absolute beast. With him in a boot for that ankle, the Bulls will have to count on the less-threatening Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik for frontcourt play. Still an imposing front to be sure, and better than the Sixers', but not the overwhelming advantage it was coming into the series. There is no longer any one area in which the Bulls are markedly better than the Sixers. That's scary.
We've already talked about Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday leading the team so far (swoon), and how Spencer Hawes magically became a basketball player in the 4th quarter of Game Three, so I'll keep it simple for Game Four with some keys to the game.
Andre Iguodala and his Achilles
Luol Deng now becomes the de facto "best player on the team" with Rose and Noah on the sidelines, even though he hasn't played nearly as well this series. That's because Iguodala has been absolutely terrorizing him on defense. Minus Rose, Deng is shooting 5-19 for 13 points. So even though Dre is definitely struggling, his defense is holding up.
That Achilles is certainly worrisome, as it gets worse each time he puts any strain on it. Expect another mostly offenseless game from the one-legged Iguodala. And that's okay - we need him much more on defense than on offense. Let Evan and Jrue handle that. Personally, I'm more worried about what his Achilles will do to his already too-low trade value this offseason when they move him.
Only of minor importance to the game of basketball is the offense. The Sixers, for much of the series, have had little of it. They've basically played well for two of the eight past quarters and anything not in transition is super rare for this unit. Elton Brand went scoreless last game, missing plenty of open shots. That can't happen. The Sixers shot 2-23 from beyond the arc in Game One and Game Three. The absence of Jodie Meeks (15 minutes ALL SERIES) has certainly had an effect on that, but so has Dre's Achilles and the Bulls gameplan to double on Louis Williams. A few more triples would be nice.
How are they going to top last game?! I'm dying to know! LIKE NOTHING I'VE EVER SEEN BEFORE!
If the Sixers win, it'll be the first time they've been up 3-1 in a series since they beat the Indiana Pacers in a first round best-of-5 series in the year 2001. A time when I was feeling the first effects of puberty and Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho were tag-team partners. Good times. Let's keep our own good times rolling with a win today. Who's got some early Sunday morning predictions for me?