Bulls watch 14-point lead disappear
Carlos Boozer loses the ball as he is defended by the 76ers' Elton Brand during the first quarter of Game 3 Friday in Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA ó Don't bother looking for Game 3 of the Bulls-Sixers first-round series on NBA TV or ESPN Classic anytime in the future, unless there's some sort of feature on the most poorly-played playoff games in the history of the basketball universe.
As if the Bulls didn't play badly enough without Derrick Rose in Game 2, they added Joakim Noah to the injured list Friday due to a sprained ankle, then endured new levels of misery in the fourth quarter.
While squandering a 14-point lead, the Bulls hit 2 of 19 shots down the stretch, missed 4 free throws and watched the Sixers hit 12 of 13 attempts at the foul line in the fourth quarter.
As a result, the Bulls lost again to Philadelphia, this time 79-74, despite playing the type of defense they promised after the miserable second half in Game 2. The Sixers, who closed the game on a 23-5 run, shot 34.2 percent from the field, but it was good enough to take a 2-1 series lead.
"We hit a lull," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That was a hard-fought game. Shots were hard to come by. Down the stretch, it was loose balls, hustle plays. We were outscored 28-14 in the fourth. Story of the game."
Here are the gory details: When Richard Hamilton drained a faceup 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10:15 remaining, the Bulls led 67-53. On their next trip, Noah canned a jumper, then hobbled down the court as if his feet were numb and quickly returned to the bench. He turned his left ankle in the third quarter.
From then on, it was another case of the Bulls unable to stop the runaway snowball down the stretch. Sixers center Spencer Hawes (21 points) somehow caught fire and eventually gave the home team a 72-71 lead with 2:10 remaining.
On the offensive end, the Bulls missed good shots, bad shots, open shots, contested shots. Nothing would go in.
"It's super frustrating," said Kyle Korver, who went scoreless. "Those are the times when you can't just be like, 'All right, let me get this going for our team.' You've got to stick together and keep on executing. I thought we ended up with the shot clock down and us having to take a tough shot 1-on-1 a lot."
After a John Lucas miss, Philadelphia's Evan Turner hit 2 free throws to make it a 3-point game. Then the Sixers didn't guard Carlos Boozer (18 points), but he missed an open 18-foot jumper.
Noah's replacement, Omer Asik, seemed block the shot of Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, but a foul was called and he hit 1 of 2 free throws. So when Lucas finally knocked down a 3-pointer, it brought the Bulls within 75-74 with 43 seconds on the clock.
"I didn't think anybody took a bad shot at all," Lucas said. "The ball just wasn't going in the hole. It seems like there was a lid on it."
The next sequence epitomized the Bulls' bad luck. Turner had a layup attempt blocked by Luol Deng, got it back, had the ball stripped again, got it back again, then threw up a crazy shot and was bailed out by another foul call on Asik. The Chicago native knocked down both free throws and it as 77-74 with 20.1 seconds left.
Deng's 3-point miss pretty much sealed the deal.
The question moving forward is how will the Bulls find ways to score with MVP Derrick Rose out with a knee injury. Hamilton scored 17 points, but he hit just 4 of 15 shots from the field. Deng finished with 5 points, while C.J. Watson and Korver were scoreless.
"Injuries are part of the game, so you have to have a mental toughness to get past all of that," Thibodeau said.
"We've had injuries all year. You need guys that have a great will to win, and no matter what the circumstances are, will find a way to win.
"Everyone's got to play to their strengths. They're not here by accident. Every player has strengths. We have to find different ways to score and we have to do it quickly. There's going to be a quick turnaround here. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. Sunday when that ball goes up, we've got to be ready to go."
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