PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls showed plenty of heart and pretty good stamina.
But in a season when they somehow dodged every obstacle and kept on winning, bad luck finally reached out and pulled them under during the final seconds of Thursday night's Game 6.
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Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala hit 2 free throws with 2.2 seconds left to give the Sixers a narrow 79-78 victory and clinch this first-round playoff series 4-2. They'll play Boston in the second round after winning a series for the first time since 2003.
While the Bulls played without Derrick Rose for five games and Joakim Noah for three, Philadelphia managed to pull out 3 narrow wins at home.
Thursday's was the most heartbreaking for the Bulls.
"That last 25 seconds pretty much summed up the last month of our season," Richard Hamilton said in the locker room. "We just couldn't get lucky. We were right there."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took a chance by sticking with his regulars in the second half. C.J. Watson and Omer Asik never left the floor after halftime, while Hamilton (19 points) and Luol Deng (19 points, 17 rebounds) sat for less than 30 seconds.
The Bulls trailed by 12 points in the third quarter but used a 16-4 run to tie the score, then held a slim lead through most of the fourth.
"We stayed positive, just like we've been all year," Deng said. "Kept yelling on the bench that we were going to make our run. Once we started making our run, guys saw it. The finish line was right there. We just started playing the way we play."
A couple of late-game mental blunders proved costly.
First, with the Bulls up by 3, both Asik and Ronnie Brewer chased Sixers guard Jrue Holiday off a high screen. No one followed the screener, center Spencer Hawes, who eventually got the ball and finished a lay-in that made it 76-75 with 43.4 seconds left.
Watson (10 assists) found Asik for a pick-and-roll dunk with 25.8 seconds left to boost the lead to 3, and the Bulls had destiny in their own hands.
While guarding against the 3-point shot, Sixers forward Thaddeus Young hit a driving scoop with 12.0 seconds left to cut the lead to 1.
Neither team had any timeouts left. Watson caught the inbounds pass and dribbled up the court. Holiday reached in on Watson from behind, trying to foul intentionally, but nothing was called and the home fans voiced displeasure as the clock continued to run.
Watson kept going and did what came instinctively, but in hindsight probably was the wrong decision. He passed it to Asik, the Bulls' worst free-throw shooter, under the basket.
"I'd been giving it to 'O' the whole night and he'd been dunking it, so I thought, 'Why not give it to him again?'" Watson said. "I thought he had a clear dunk. I thought it was a questionable call, it could have been a flagrant. But it didn't go that way."
Asik was hogtied by Hawes, who made no attempt to play the ball, and a strong argument could be made for a flagrant foul, but it wasn't called.
Asik, after playing more than 39 minutes, missed both free throws. Iguodala grabbed the rebound, pushed it the other way, drew a foul on Asik and just like that, the season was over.
"It was just one of those things when it comes down to that call," Hamilton said. "You can't grab anybody by the neck. That's in the rule book. That's an automatic flagrant. But they didn't call it, and it is what it is."
The last thing anyone should do is blame Asik for this loss. He played spectacular defense during the Bulls' late comeback and actually hit 4 of 7 free throws on the night. Before this game he'd been 2-for-10 at the line in this series.
"I think 'O' is fine," Watson said. "If anything, it's on me, not on 'O.' I put him in a bad position, but like I said, I thought he had a clear dunk and I thought it was a questionable call."
With about three minutes left and the Bulls clinging to a 1-point edge, they came up with an incredible minute-long possession by grabbing 3 offensive boards and getting the benefit of one loose-ball foul. The run ended with 2 free throws by Taj Gibson that put Bulls up 76-73 with 2:03 left.
"You look at it, we had the game in our hands and just blew it," Gibson said. "We were taking good shots, running good offense. Just the way that game ended, it's real frustrating.
"It was a grind the whole game, and then it just changed within seconds. You don't want to lose a game like that, especially when it's physical all game long."