PHILADELPHIA — The Bulls keep saying they are a “no excuse” team, even though the list of available alibis is growing longer by the day.
If this keeps up, though, the Bulls are going to be a “no second-round” team. They now trail No. 8 seed Philadelphia 3-1 in this first-round series after losing 89-82 in Sunday's Game 4.
In order to keep their season going, the Bulls need to win Tuesday at the United Center. They've never rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series in franchise history.
“Just worry about the next game,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There's nothing we can do other than win the next game. That's all our focus has to be on that. We do have more than enough to win with. That's the thing that's disappointing right now.”
As expected, center Joakim Noah sat this one out. He was on the bench in street clothes, wearing a walking boot on his sprained left ankle. Thibodeau said Noah was feeling better Sunday, but the chances of a return on Tuesday appear slim.
Omer Asik got his first playoff start and produced 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1 points in 23 minutes. Taj Gibson took advantage of more playing time to finish with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 23 points.
But Game 4 was essentially a replica of the Bulls' Game 3 loss, just without a 14-point blown lead in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls never had much of a lead Sunday — they trailed by 10 in the first quarter — and once again, a low-scoring game went down to the wire. Any sort of offensive success could change everything and the Sixers found the answer.
Guard Jrue Holiday, who was way off target most of the day, knocked down a two straight 3-point baskets after simple screens. The second one put Philadelphia ahead 80-73 with 3:34 remaining.
“I was right there,” said Gibson, who challenged the shot. “I barely missed it. It was kind of a tough play because (center Spencer) Hawes screened C.J. (Watson). He took kind of a lean-back three and he knocked it down. A tough shot.”
The Bulls answered reasonably well. Boozer drove to the hoop for a 3-point play, then Watson shook off his shooting slump to knock down a pair of jumpers. Trailing by 2 with a chance to tie, Boozer had a layup smothered by Hawes and Elton Brand with just over a minute remaining.
On the other end, Lou Williams knocked down 2 free throws to make it a 4-point game. Boozer tried going to the hoop once again, but this time lost the handle and the ball rolled out of bounds for a turnover.
“Both games in Philadelphia, we thought we should have won,” Boozer said. “Even today, with all the things going against us — slow start, shots not going in, not getting calls that we thought we should get, turnovers — we still felt like we could have won and should have won the game. Now it's a must-win. We've got to fight like dogs in Game 5.”
Free throws have been a huge issue for the Bulls in this series. Philadelphia built a whopping 31-14 edge in free throw attempts on Sunday and led 64-37 in the two games combined.
Even worse, from the Bulls' perspective, the Sixers won two close games without every making a field goal in the final two minutes. All their points came on 14 free throws.
Finding ways to score in the fourth quarter without the injured Derrick Rose continues to be the major dilemma facing the Bulls. They have one more chance to get it right.
“We're fighting,” Thibodeau said. “But we can do better. We can do a lot better.”
“We're not going to make any excuses,” Kyle Korver said. “This is just what we have to work with. We're not in this for the moral victories. We're trying to win a championship.”
The Bulls didn't resemble a desperate team in the first quarter. They fell behind 18-8 after giving up a 10-0 Sixers run and finished the quarter trailing 24-15.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.