We are still quite bitter about our loss to the Hawks in the first round series. The Magic and its faithful are still trying to figure out exactly what the heck happened in its 4-2 loss to the Hawks. Orlando will be picking up those pieces over the next five months and trying to get back to playing at a championship level. There will be plenty of time to analyze exactly what went wrong and how to clean things up. For now, though, let's dream thanks to WhatIfSports.com...
The Magic had a chance to close out the Bulls on their home court and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year. Amway Center was ready for the coronation party and to move one step closer to the franchise's first NBA championship.
Only problem was, the Bulls were not ready for the series to be over. Derrick Rose made sure of that. He scored 33 points and turned in an MVP performance to keep Chicago's season alive, forcing a Game Seven at United Center on Sunday (or at least that is when I will simulate the game... since the Bulls actually defeated the Hawks to get to the Eastern Conference Finals).
The Bulls did several things right in Game Six that they simply had not been doing previously in this series.
First, Derrick Rose was attacking the basket and playing like the Derrick Rose of reality. Rose scored 33 points and was a scorer. He had only four assists in the game, but looked to go to the hoop and attack the paint. Rose went to the free throw line for 14 of Chicago's 20 free throw attempts. Rose also hit three of his five 3-point attempts.
Even with Rose looking to score first, the Bulls had one of their most efficient offensive games of the series. Chicago limited its 3-point attempts and went 5 for 11. Carlos Boozer also put in a stellar effort to help the Bulls avoid elimination. Boozer scored 18 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists. He finally took advantage of his matchup with Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson.
The Bulls got a balanced scoring effort as Luol Deng contributed 11 points and Joakim Noah 13 to go along with seven rebounds. Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson each had eight.
Dwight Howard's supporting cast failed to provide him with the same offensive balance.
Howard scored 27 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked eight shots, continuing his torrid pace through the Bulls in this series. But aside from Jason Richardson's 21 points, the Magic mustered very little offense. Howard and Richardson combined to shoot 17 for 33 (51.5 percent), but the rest of the team shot 20 for 51 (39.2 percent). The 44-percent shooting as a team just simply was not good enough. Jameer Nelson was the only other player to score in double figures, totaling 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He also had six of the Magic's 15 turnovers.
Orlando simply did not execute enough to close out the series. And that certainly (would have) disappointed Stan Van Gundy.
The Magic got within two midway through the fourth quarter before Chicago went on a 14-2 run to take a 10-point lead back after starting the quarter up 10. Orlando got back within two with 22 seconds left before Rose took over and got tot he foul line to give the Bulls some breathing space again. Turkoglu missed a three to keep the Magic down six and that was all Orlando could muster.
Once again, the Magic were playing catchup the entire fourth quarter and could not get over the hump.
Again, Van Gundy would not have been happy with the way things closed out, despite the fight Orlando put up.
So the simulated Eastern Conference Semifinals series comes down to Game Seven. It will be simulated Sunday night.
Photos via Wylio.com.