The Sixers lost many games late this season…behind these clutch free throws, that dubious fact was not to be last night…
In a series where few are speaking in terms of a number one seed vs. a number eight, the Philadelphia 76’ers gained home court advantage in defeating the depleted Chicago Bulls 79-74. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes the stars. In Game 2, Philly won because of a 36-14 third quarter. Last night it was a 28-14 fourth. This was a game the Sixers most likely had to win if it were to have a chance to move on to the second round. Probably the biggest playoff win since the Sixers went up 2-1 on the Magic in ’09. I’ve been lucky to have covered both. Last night was incredible and in the words following, I tried to give you the game through my eyes. There is video of Julius Erving’s press conference as well. Big news for Philadelphia 76’ers fans.
The crowd was a little late filling the Wells Fargo arena to capacity. Once they got to their seats, they were treated to this…
The response to this game from the crowd was what you might expect from any franchise looking to take the next big step. Honestly, Philadelphia simply wanted a win and yes while it is unfortunate Derrick Rose went down with injury, Game 3 was all they cared about.
Carlos Boozer had 10 in the first and the Bulls shot an even 50% for the quarter. Chicago seemed committed to putting what happened in Game 2 behind them. Coach Thibodeau had a short bench in the frame…only going with a six man rotation.
Philly, on the other hand, went with nine. They were 7-18 in the quarter for 38.9%. Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand shot a combined 1-6 and had 1 rebound and 2 assists between them. The first quarter ended 20-19. Spencer Hawes made a huge 25 foot three to beat the shot clock with 9:41 left in the period. I’m sure most in the building thought the Sixers played well enough to stay in it vs. the favored Bulls, but definitely could take it up a couple notches. This is a crowd never satisfied.
The second quarter saw Thibs open up his bench with John Lucas playing the most minutes of anyone. He responded with 7 points. Lucas looks like a hard guard because he’s good at getting space between he and the defender with sheer speed. I guess the Sixers were tired of chasing Rip Hamilton and put him on the line 4 times in the quarter. Chicago missed 12 of 17 shots in the 2nd.
Philly missed 14 of 21 shots in quarter. Open jumpers were given to the Sixers’ big men but nothing was falling. What was beginning to become evident was Evan Turner’s desire to not lose this game. He seemed to be moving with purpose. Thad Young had 7 boards in the 2nd. The Sixers shot good enough to wrestle the lead from the Bulls at halftime, 40-39.
The press was told there would be an announcement during intermission and also that Julius Erving, the Sixers legendary Hall of Famer and a member of the 50 Greatest would be available to speak. No one knew exactly what the announcement would be but we figured the good Dr. J. would be named to the organization in some capacity (I’m 5:00-6:42):
Interested that Doc likens his role to that of Reggie Jackson with the New York Yankees. I hope the Sixers front office uses Erving as an asset. It will be good to see him in Wells Fargo because fans young and old get to see one of the best to ever do it. He gives the team credibility.
Heading back to the floor with Anthony Gilbert, we ran into South Jersey native Jason Thompson…the Kings restricted free agent. Always interesting to see an athlete attend a game he’s not professionally connected to. Jason was in chill mode. He had the sun glasses going and basically told us he’s enjoying the off season.
The Sixers missed 17 of 21 shots in the 3rd quarter and were outscored 21-11. Evan Turner was the lone Sixer hitting anything close to 50% (2-4). He had 4 of Philly’s 9 rebounds as well.
Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 6 in the third but the points or anything else he did meant nothing because with 6:46 left in the quarter, he went down with an ankle injury. I’m sure Bulls fans watching the game couldn’t believe what they were seeing. What was distressing was how Philadelphia fans cheered when Noah was injured and booed when he was able to get up. Reminded me of when Michael Irvin went down with a career ending neck injury here. No class. Philly…straight up. Noah tried to go but his movement was restricted and he headed to the locker room. Chicago had a nice lead at this point and looked to be the victors but then the fourth quarter happened…
With Noah out, the Sixers got hot. Defensively they held the Bulls to 24% for the quarter (6-25) and made 8 of 16 shots themselves. Jrue Holiday began attacking, rebounding and setting up his teammates. I asked coach Thibodeau about Holiday pregame:
I spoke to Jrue as well. I thought that last night had the makings of a classic game beforehand and his play would be a factor because of Rose’s absence (foul trouble early and had 5 for the game), but he wouldn’t budge…as he shouldn’t have:
The Bulls went up as much as 14 points before Philadelphia stormed back. They were aggressive going to the hole, out-rebounded the Bulls 16-11 in Noah’s absence, and got a restless crowd that booed the home team in the third, back in it. Everything was going right for Philly and bad for Chicago. Holiday had 8 points, 4 assists and 5 boards in the quarter. Spencer Hawes hit 4 of 5 for ten in the 4th. Spencer hit the shots the Sixers needed. Evan Turner had two huge plays in the period where he was able to secure rebounds after his and teammate shots and get fouled in the process. He stepped up and made all four free throws. Doug Collins called the first sequence by Turner the “play of the season”. It was all will. Being 6 ft. 7 in. and ultra competitive, teams will have major difficulty keeping him off the glass as he matures. Those rebounds he gets are always timely and helped the Sixers erase a 14 point deficit in the 4th and escape with a four point victory. For Chicago, Boozer finished with 18 points and 10 boards. Hamilton had 17. Noah and Lucas had 12.
Philly was led by Hawes’ 21 and 9 rebounds. Turner had 16 and 9 boards. Holiday had 17, 6 dimes and 6 rebounds. Lou Williams hit some big shots and finished with 14. After being heavily out-rebounded, the Sixers closed the gap to 49-43…with obviously the Bulls having the edge. I didn’t think the Sixers could win a game where Chicago had a glass advantage or that Iguodala and Brand could have 5 points between them and still come out victorious. Iguodala is banged up. He’s dealing with knee and Achilles issues. That he’s able to chase whoever he’s defending around is incredible in my eyes. Deng was 2-7 and finished with just 5. He and Iguodala cancel each other out in my opinion. Brand is a fire starter. He will come back and have a better Game 4.
Collins opening press conference remarks:
“Wow. What an incredible win for our guys. Shoot 34 percent. One for 14 from three. Just looked like we were just not going to be able to find a way to score. Then our guys, I talked about it, you get into a series and it becomes about the will to win, the 50/50 balls, all those little things.
We had some tremendous performances tonight. I was really very, very proud of Spencer [Hawes]. Spencer had a horrible start to the third quarter, missed two or three layups. Took him out, he had a foul. Took him out and just tried to calm him down a little bit. He hit some huge shots for us in the second half.
Jrue [Holiday] got into early foul trouble and I thought he had trouble getting started in the second half, and then he got going. Lou [Williams] had some big baskets when we needed him. He had a big basket right there when he was hurt before I could get him out of the game. Dre [Andre Iguodala] is out there really playing on one foot right now, and the job he’s doing either chasing Rip [Richard] Hamilton…
I honestly believe that the singular biggest play of the year for us was Evan Turner, the play he made under the basket. He made a great pass to Spencer, Spencer missed a shot and Evan just fought, fought, fought, got fouled and made those two free throws. I thought that was the singular best play for us of the season that he made.
Our defense clamped down. I thought fatigue was a factor for them. I kept talking to our guys. They were depleted. [Joakim] Noah went out and obviously they have no Derrick Rose. I told our guys at the six-minute mark, “We now have to count on us being able to keep the pressure on them and hope they’ll start missing some of those shots that they made.”
I thought fatigue was a factor. I thought Thibs [Tom Thibodeau] had a short bench tonight, and I thought that the fatigue played a factor and that was big for us.”
I picked the Sixers in 7. Philadelphia has been a tough team the majority of the season and I banked on the Sixers defending their honor after falling back to the pack the end of the year. The injury concern surrounding Derrick Rose obviously factored into my picking Philadelphia because I didn’t know if he was healthy enough to go an entire series. He went down to a freak injury. Talking with a Bulls’ beat writer last night, I got the sense that Rose’s injury had little to do with the schedule and was something that…just happened. That being said, I would be naive to think the encapsulated schedule doesn’t affect physical play (jet lag and other professional responsibilities as well).
I asked coach Thibodeau about the injury factor. He’s right when he says: “next man up”…
After all press responsibilities were handled, a small contingent of Chicago media waited outside the Bulls locker room for Noah. At one instance, Joakim opened the door…he was on crutches…saw the reporters and quickly closed the door. Sometime later, he came out and with the aid of aforementioned crutches, he made his way to the bus. I couldn’t imagine being a Chicago writer and seeing the floor fall out so quickly. The Bulls have lost their heart and soul in a matter of three games. Taj Gibson went down as well but was able to continue. Never seen anything like this and frustration is evident on even the writer’s faces. This season had so much promise and the Bulls were expected to at least get to the ECF for what would have been a hyped up dream match up with the Miami Heat. If Noah is ruled out the remainder of the series, I don’t think the Bulls will recover to get past the 1st round and Philadelphia. It would be a monumental effort to come back vs. a Philly team confident and with another game at home Sunday (1:00 pm est) the Sixers could put the Bulls in a strangle hold…but…in the season of the lockout, nothing seems to hold true.