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Bulls Mon May 07 2012
Already down from Derrick Rose's season-ending injury, the Chicago Bulls faced another setback Sunday afternoon as starting center Joakim Noah was benched with a sprained ankle sustained in Friday's loss. The absence was glaring, allowing Philly center Spencer Hawes to have his second great game in a row, leading the 76ers to an 89-82 win.
The victory gives Philly a 3-1 series lead heading back to Chicago, where the No. 8 seed will try to close out the Bulls on Tuesday night.
The Sixers opened the game with a big first quarter, as Chicago adjusted to the absence of Noah and the new rotations that result from it, creating space with an eventual nine-point lead. The Bulls, or more specifically, Taj Gibson responded in the second, with the forward scoring 10 straight points to bring the Bulls back into the game. It was precisely the type of play that was missing late in the game Friday, and again disappeared in the fourth quarter tonight. But for a few brief moments, it was a glimpse of brilliance, of a role player stepping up to carry his load and then some.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 41 minutes, managing to put in 23 points and grab 11 rebounds in the process--a good night, but not good enough when Chicago's missing the other two big pieces of offense. Boozer was noted in the post-game as being a bit curious about the large discrepancy in free throws given in the game, as the home team was awarded 31 to the Bulls' 14. The 76ers also had ten more free throws in game 3, though at the time that wasn't focused on because it clearly wasn't the reason they lost the game. The same thing could be said for the result tonight, as it was a drought in the fourth quarter that sunk Chicago, but nevertheless, some food for thought.
In the fourth however, the buckets stopped falling for the second game in a row at the most critical point, once again putting the Bulls up against the wall in the closing minutes. Philly took advantage, with Jrue Holiday hitting two late threes (despite starting the game 1-14) to open up a cushion in what had become a one-point game after a basket by Gibson. It's an odd scenario to be in, as a Bulls fan--despite many fans complaining all season that we need more options in the closing minutes than clearing space for Derrick Rose and letting him go 1v1, it's that late-game dependency that's sorely missing since he's gone out. Maybe the truth that head coach Tom Thibodeau knew along was that he ran that play because it was always the best option he had. You could say it was because he never gave someone else the rock for the final few shots that we don't have any to rely on now, except that the Bulls played so many games without Rose that by necessity alone, there should be someone on that team comfortable in that roll.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Bulls got out relatively healthy. While they still seem in positive spirits and will no doubt refuse to go gently into the night at home, it's looking more and more likely that they won't really have a choice. Philadelphia is playing hard basketball and fully respecting the No. 1 seed the Bulls earned this year, not making the mental mistake of assuming the series is over.
Noah won't play Tuesday, either, and without his presence it's going to be hard to prevent Hawes from having another big game and punching Philly's ticket to the second round.