Following the Bulls disappointing Game 4 loss to the 76ers Sunday in Philadelphia, none other than second-year center Omer Asik said these words: We will never give up fighting.
Literally and figuratively, the Bulls did just that Tuesday at the United Center, scrapping out an ugly 77-69 win over the Sixers to keep their season alive, all the while battling even more injuries and opposing players alike in a show of heart fitting of a such a blue-collar, albeit short-handed squad, though they still face a 3-2 deficit in the first-round playoff series.
All-Star Luol Deng (24 points, eight rebounds) got off to one of his quick starts, scoring the Bulls first two buckets, but the opening period was mostly devoid of offense, as both squads struggled to put points on the board.
The starting backcourt of C.J. Watson (five points, seven assists) and Rip Hamilton, in particular, had accuracy issues, combining to go 2-for-10 from the floor in the frame, while Carlos Boozer (19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) was scoreless.
Sixers rookie big man Lavoy Allen (nine points, six rebounds) came off the bench to score six points, helping the visitors take an early lead, though that was mitigated by their six turnovers in the stanza.
A boost of energy from reserves Taj Gibson (eight points, seven rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer (six points, eight rebounds) helped the hosts cause and after a late-period triple from Deng, they took a 17-16 advantage into the second quarter.
The game remained close and scoring was still at a premium, as both defenses clamped downAsik and Gibson were formidable shot-blocking presences on the interiorthough Dengs aggressive approach, combined with timely buckets from his teammates, kept things close. Fan favorite John Lucas III and some offensive contributions from Boozer helped the Bulls obtain some breathing room from the frigid-shooting Sixers.
As if the low-octane game needed some punchliterallyafter a scramble for a loose ball near the Bulls bench, a mild skirmish ensued, resulting in double technical on Gibson and Philadelphia veteran power forward Elton Brand, a former Bull, as well as the United Center crowd raising its energy, along with the diminutive and energetic Lucas. It carried over to the entire squad, as Boozer and Brewer, with the crowd roaring its appreciation, sparked the Bulls late in the first half, sending them into the intermission with an incredibly low-scoring 35-26 lead.
The carry-over effect continued after the break, as the Bulls maintained a double-digit cushion, played with high energy and both Boozer and Deng were offensive focal points. Brewer and Gibson again came off the bench to make key plays at both ends of the floor, but the hosts stifling defenseor depending on how you look at it, the guests floundering offensewas what was crucial in keeping the Sixers at bay, despite point guard Jrue Holiday (16 points, five rebounds, four assists), All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala (11 points), center Spencer Hawes (11 points, 14 rebounds) and sixth man Lou Williams (13 points) finally starting to emerge.
Amazingly, the injury bug hit the short-handed Bulls once again, as Gibson, after stepping on Allens foot, went down clutching his right ankle with 2:06 left in the third quarter and while he got to his feet under his own power, he hobbled over to the bench and was then helped to the locker room by the teams training staff for treatment, though hed eventually be cleared to return to the contest.
Still, with Boozer continuing to do damage, the Bulls entered the final stanza with a 57-48 edge.
Boozer continued to carry the offensive load at the outset of the fourth quarter and got help from Asik, who anchored the Bulls defense, which continued to frustrate the offensively-devoid Sixers. Deng then stepped up, draining two dagger triplesboth of which were followed by Holiday jumperscontributing to the hosts lead ballooning to as much as 15 and with Gibsons return to the court, the home crowd was in euphoria midway through the period.
As the game entered its stretch run, with Gibson hobbling and the offense starting to bog down, the Bulls were playing against two foes: Philadelphia and the clock, but as happened so many times during the regular season, they simply found a way, with a jumper from Watson and a steal from Brewer among the plays that kept them ahead.
A Deng three-pointer with 1:32 remaining, giving the Bulls a 12-point lead, effectively sealed the deal, despite a last-gasp effort by the Sixers, extending the series to a sixth game Thursday night in Philadelphia.