Joakim Noah does plenty for the Bulls as far as rebounds, defense and scoring. He's also their emotional leader and the team got off to another slow start without him in Tuesday's make-or-break Game 5.
Enter Taj Gibson. He filled up the stat sheet nicely in Sunday's Game 4 loss. This time, he utilized his spiritual side, bringing the emotion and energy.
Gibson blocked 4 shots in the first half, created some excitement by refusing to let go in a loose ball battle with Elton Brand, then made a dramatic comeback from a sprained ankle in the second half.
The Bulls followed Gibson's "refuse to lose" example and kept their season alive by winning a 77-69 slugfest at the United Center. They now trail this first-round series 3-2.
"It's all about heart and will," Gibson said. "I always play like this. It's nothing different. I'm going to go out there and play hard, I'm going lay it on the line any given night, do my job."
Whether Gibson or Noah will be healthy enough to play in Thursday's Game 6 back in Philadelphia remains to be seen. Without a victory on Tuesday, there would have been no Game 6.
Tom Thibodeau showed that he wasn't going to take any chances in this game. When playoff veteran Richard Hamilton lost track of Evan Turner, allowing him to score an easy layup in the third quarter, the Bulls coach immediately sent Ronnie Brewer into the game.
Even though they didn't score much, Gibson and Brewer might have been the Bulls' most valuable players on this night. The Sixers had the lowest scoring first half (26 points) in franchise playoff history.
Brewer didn't play at all in Game 3 of this series, but on Tuesday, he logged 29 minutes, compared to 18 for Hamilton. In the fourth quarter, Brewer not only blocked a hook shot by Brand, he ended up ripping the ball away and keeping possession.
"This is all for nothing if we don't come out with the same intensity, same urgency next game on the road," Brewer said. "They're going to come out with a lot of focus, because they want to close us out."
On the scoring front, Luol Deng snapped out of an offensive slump with 24 points. He hit 10-of-19 shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Carlos Boozer shook off a slow start to add 19 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 16 points.
"I felt like I didn't shoot the ball enough (in the three losses)," Deng said. "Tonight I was more aggressive. Sometimes having Derrick out, we just play a little bit differently. When Derrick is in the game, I'm less aggressive and tonight I really wanted to be aggressive from the start."
The game's decisive run occurred late in the second quarter. The Bulls finished the first half on a 12-3 run to take a 35-26 advantage into halftime. John Lucas III knocked down a 3-pointer during the surge, Boozer finished a baseline spin and Brewer added a driving scoop. The Sixers hit 4-of-23 shots from the field (17.3 percent) during the second quarter.
Philadelphia never got closer than 7 points in the second half. Players on both sides seemed exhausted late in this game from expending so much energy defensively.
Holiday hit 5-of-17 shots from the field, while teammate Andre Iguodala went 4-for-19. The Sixers shot 32.1 percent as a team.
Give the Bulls all the credit tonight," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "They came out tonight and they were incredibly physical. The second quarter was disastrous for us offensively."