By Mike McGraw
The Bulls had plenty of reasons not to play well in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
They reached their hotel at 4 a.m. after a tough home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Four of the five starters played at least 40 minutes Tuesday, and the one who didn’t, guard Kirk Hinrich, sat out against the 76ers with a left-knee injury.
Joakim Noah wasn’t worried about any of that stuff. He stayed focused on memories of last season’s playoff loss to Philadelphia, specifically the moment in Game 3 when his series ended with a badly sprained ankle.
Noah scored 21 points Wednesday, Luol Deng added 19, and the Bulls knocked off the Sixers 96-89 at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I’ve been thinking about it all summer,” Noah told reporters in Philadelphia, according to espn.com. “All summer I just couldn’t wait to come back here.
“I just felt like when I went down last year, just people cheering and stuff; I felt like that was real disrespectful and it was definitely motivating for me to work even harder in the summer.”
Yes, when Noah first crumpled to the floor after stepping on Andre Iguodala’s foot, loud cheering could be heard in the arena. In fairness, the fans did groan when the replay of Noah’s left ankle turning sideways was shown on the video board.
“I’m going to do it for the rest of my career,” Noah added. “Every time I come here. (The booing) motivates me. I’ll never forget what happened in the playoffs when I went down, and I will use that as motivation every time I come into this building.”
Hinrich suffered the knee injury at some point during Tuesday’s game. This is his fifth different injury this season, joining thumb, elbow, groin and hip. Coach Tom Thibodeau called Hinrich’s status day to day.
Even though Thibodeau used just eight players Wednesday, the bench came through. The Bulls put together a strong finish with reserves Marquis Teague, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson joining Noah and Deng on the floor.
The Sixers led 78-75 with 6:56 left after an Evan Turner driving layup. That’s when the supposedly tired Bulls hit the accelerator.
Deng and Butler hit jumpers to put the Bulls ahead. After guard Jrue Holiday (26 points) scored to give Philadelphia an 80-79 edge, Butler hit a 3-pointer with 4:31 left, sending the Bulls into the lead for good.
A Teague steal led to 2 Deng free throws, then Teague scored on a driving reverse. Philadelphia’s Jason Richardson missed a 3-pointer that could have tied the score, before Deng hit a short jumper and Noah canned a 17-footer to make it 90-83 with 1:19 left and essentially ice the game.
Deng said after the game that he hyperextended his knee at one point, but he continued to play.
“Joakim set the tone right from the start of the game,” Thibodeau said. “I think he responded well because of what happened last night.
“I want him to be consistent with his approach. I don’t want him to be relying on emotion — one game you’re up, one game you’re down. Just approach it the same way.”
Marco Belinelli added 16 points, and Robinson scored 14. The Bulls hit 24 of 26 free throws and outscored the Sixers 24-5 at the foul line.
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