Playing Game 4 in the quarterfinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Chicago Bulls suffered a hard-fought 89-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center. The Bulls are down 3-1 in this best-of-seven series.
Without Derrick Roe (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (ankle) in the lineup, the Bulls placed four players in double figures. Carlos Boozer dropped 23 points and 11 points while shooting 11-for-24 from the field. C.J. Watson poured in all 17 of his points in the second half, while Taj Gibson had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Both teams struggled offensively for most of the day, but Spencer Hawes led the way for the Sixers, scoring 22 points. Jrue Holiday added 20 points and knocked down two critical three-pointers down the stretch, despite missing 16-of-23 shots overall. Once again, Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton weren’t able to produce on offense the way they both would have liked, going a combined 8-for-20 for just 18 points.
Right out of the gate, the Bulls got outworked and outrebounded and couldn’t buy a shot. Staying perimeter-based on offense and ball-watching on defense, they trailed 24-15 through one quarter of play, shooting a pedestrian 7-for-25 from the field. But Gibson was one of the few Bulls playing their A-game, as he had 12 points in the second frame to provide the team with a major, much-needed spark. Without his strong first-half effort – to go along with a combined 4-for-5 shooting by John Lucas III and Kyle Korver – the Bulls absolutely would not have been within 44-42 at intermission, as Hawes connected on a three-pointer to close out the second. In many ways, the Bulls were fortunate to be down just two points through the first 24 minutes, because they played lifeless at times and didn’t get much out of Watson or Hamilton. But, as usual, other players picked up the slack and the Bulls’ ball movement and activity picked up as the first half wore on.
The Bulls’ spirits picked up in the third quarter when they gained some momentum on both ends of the floor. They trailed 64-63 entering the fourth, where it was a back-and-forth affair. Most of the statistics were even – as the two squads shot around 40 percent for most of the night while the Bulls outrebounded the Sixers 48-46 – although Philadelphia hit 22-of-31 free throws compared to Chicago’s 11-of-14 mark from the charity stripe. Late in the game, Boozer was hammered going to the basket, but he did not get the call. Then, on the other end, Holiday drove and there seemed to be very little contact, and he got the foul call and drained a pair of free throws. Moments later, the Bulls attempted to foul the Sixers but did not get the whistle and then Omer Asik, starting in place of the injured Noah, committed one that was iffy at best, leading to two Andre Iguodala free throws.
Still, the Bulls know the game was not totally because of the referees – which would fall in line with their no-excuse mantra. They had ample opportunities to win the game on both ends. But one of the plays that hurt them was when Boozer bobbled the ball and turned it over with the Bulls down just 84-80 with about 48 seconds left. That miscue appeared to be the nail in the Bulls’ coffin on this afternoon, and turnovers were an issue throughout the game. The Bulls had 14 of them, which the Sixers scored 19 points off of.
Yes, Tom Thibodeau’s bunch displayed a much better effort Sunday than in Game 3 Friday. It would have been easy for them to roll over and call it a season early in Game 4, especially given their lethargic start and the fact that they’re without two key players. But the Bulls continued to fight and kept coming at the Sixers. Similar to Game 3, though, they didn’t make the big plays when it mattered most as the Sixers did, at the foul line at least.
Chicago fans will be proud of the way the Bulls continued to battle in Game 4, when many believed they had no chance to begin with. However, talent and crucial shot-makers wins out in the playoffs – and the Bulls are finding that out the hard way as of right now. Now, the Bulls head back to Chicago facing a huge deficit. Barring a miracle in regards to their level of play and Noah’s health, the Bulls will have a tough mountain to climb if they want to bring the series back to Philadelphia for a Game 6. The likelihood of that scenario does not look good by any stretch of the imagination.
Next up, the Bulls have an off day Monday before Game 5 against the Sixers on Tuesday night at the United Center.