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updated: 5/5/2012 12:02 AM

Loss of Noah could cripple Bulls

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  • The 76ers' Evan Turner, left, and Spencer Hawes, center, fight for the ball with the Bulls' Joakim Noah, right, during the second quarter of Game 3 Friday in Philadelphia.

    The 76ers' Evan Turner, left, and Spencer Hawes, center, fight for the ball with the Bulls' Joakim Noah, right, during the second quarter of Game 3 Friday in Philadelphia.
    Associated Press


PHILADELPHIA -- Just about everything else has gone wrong for the Bulls this season. So when Joakim Noah grabbed a defensive rebound and decided to lead his own fastbreak, why wouldn't he suffer a gruesome ankle sprain on the way to the basket?

Fans inside the Wells Fargo Center cheered wildly when Noah grabbed his left ankle in obvious pain. A few moments later, the same fans groaned when watching the replay of Noah's ankle rolling sideways when he stepped on the foot of Sixers forward Andre Iguodala.

After the game, Noah hopped on one foot through the locker room and left the building on crutches. His status for Sunday's Game 4 is extremely questionable, though the Bulls expect to have a better idea of where he stands today.

"Next man up. That's the way it is," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.

A foul was called on the play and after a timeout, Noah came out and hit both free throws with 7:57 left in the third quarter. He stayed in the game for another minute, then returned to the locker room, presumably to get the ankle retaped.

Noah was back on the floor early in the fourth quarter and his jumper gave the Bulls a 69-56 lead with 9:35 remaining. But it was obvious he could barely move and replacement Omer Asik (4 points) quickly checked back in.

Noah finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Bulls can only wonder if he would have made a difference down the stretch of the 79-74 loss.

"What else can you say? He's a warrior," Carlos Boozer said. "Obviously, not having Joakim out there affects us in a huge way. He's a monster on defense and playing great offensively as well. That definitely affected us."

Brewer left out of rotation:

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau mixed up the playing rotation slightly Friday. Richard Hamilton played more minutes than usual, for a total of 42.

Ronnie Brewer didn't play at all and when the Bulls needed a better defender on Sixers guard Evan Turner, Thibodeau used rookie Jimmy Butler for a brief appearance.

"Just looking for something different," Thibodeau. "I wanted to give Jimmy a crack. I just wanted to see how he would respond out there. He didn't play a lot of minutes, but I like how he played."

When Hamilton got healthy late in the season, Brewer's playing time dropped and like most players, he hasn't fared as well in smaller minutes as he did when he started 43 games.

C.J. Watson (0-for-4) and Kyle Korver (0-for-5), usually two of the Bulls' better long-range shooters, went scoreless in Game 3. John Lucas played the entire fourth quarter at point guard.

"C.J.'s doing fine. C.J.'s nicked up pretty good, too," Thibodeau said. "So he's giving us everything he has. I thought he got us off to a good start. He just has to keep plugging away."

Celtics set example:

As the Bulls headed on the road for the first time in the playoffs, it was easy to draw parallels to the 2009 first-round series when they played Boston.

That Celtics team, with Tom Thibodeau on the coaching staff, was missing an injured Kevin Garnett. But with the series tied 1-1, they went into Chicago and rolled to a 21-point victory at the United Center.

Before Friday's game, Thibodeau used that example to set a challenge for his current team.

"I thought (the Celtics) played with a great edge all season long," he said. "When you're down people, you have to play with an edge. You have to play hard. We've got to get back to that.

"You have to claw, scratch, fight -- whatever's necessary. You've got to get it done and that's been a staple for the team all year long. More so now than ever, that's how we have to play."

Road trip finally ends:

It wasn't easy for the 76ers to feel at home on Friday. They hadn't played a game at the Wells Fargo Center since April 17 and hadn't won at home since March 31.

"I told our coaches when I came back in the building today, it was almost like it was a new season because we've been gone so long," Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said.

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