The Chicago Bulls are a game away from their season ending in disappointment, but can Tom Thibodeau’s men give it one last push against the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Gasol back for Bulls in Game 6: Spaniard not at full speed but will play.
LeBron edges Bulls out in thriller: (Video) James stars yet again in crucial win.
Butler intends to stay with Bulls: Guard will re-sign with Chicago.
It is an all-too familiar sight for Bulls fans as they face the real prospect of LeBron James killing their playoff hopes for a fourth time since 2010. The 30-year-old delivered a game-winner in Game 4 before scoring 38 points in a masterful performance last time out to give the Cavs the edge in this series.
However, with the teams heading back to the United Center for Game 6, the Bulls have shown that they can withstand the best that LeBron can throw at them and yet still keep the game competitive.
Missed opportunities to act as motivation
Coach Tom Thibodeau knows that they have spurned opportunities to take control of this series, and he will not allow that to happen again on Thursday night. Chicago should take confidence from that and use it to their advantage with a raucous home crowd getting behind them, but they must give them something to feed off with a quick start.
The play of Derrick Rose this series
The Bulls point guard has been playing at an elite level to finally put his injury woes behind him and play like the MVP that he once was.
The 26-year-old is averaging 23.2 points and 6.6 assists so far in this series, and the Bulls may well have enjoyed a different outcome on Tuesday had he not been suffering with a shoulder issue. Nevertheless, a big performance from him in Game 6 will go a long way to forcing a decider.
Jimmy Butler avoiding early foul trouble
Make no mistake about it, LeBron is one of the best to ever play in the NBA. However, Butler has been doing a great job playing defense on him this series and has done as much as he can to limit him.
While fatigue may well start to become a factor, he was certainly hindered by early foul trouble in Game 5, and provided that he can avoid it this time round, James won’t have the same kind of game again even though his influence is still undeniable on an ‘off night’.
The return of Pau Gasol
Gasol has insisted that he will play in Game 6, as although he is still suffering from a hamstring strain he has made enough progress to allow him to feature.
While he will still be limited, his mere presence will be a huge boost for the Bulls as it will give them an extra option and more offensive threat than usual. Provided that he isn’t a liability on his defense due to the injury, Gasol can be the difference between winning and losing in this game.
Bench needs to step up
Thibodeau hasn’t got enough from his reserves this series and that needs to change. Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson need to make the difference off the bench, and they have been too inconsistent so far.
The Bulls are deeper than their rivals but they haven’t shown it this series, yet they are due a breakout game from their second unit to put them in a strong position down the stretch. This is the game to make it happen.