Early playoff exit leaves foul taste for Bulls

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Early playoff exit leaves foul taste for Bulls

PHILADELPHIA After a season like this, would you expect anything less?

Yes, the Bulls lost Game 6 of their first-round playoff series with the 76ers, 79-78, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but in the spirit of a campaign in which they continually battled through tremendous adversity, they did so with dignity and heart.

With 2.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Sixers All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala stepped to the line after rebounding Bulls center Omer Asiks missed free throw and pushing it the length of the court, then getting fouled on a layup attempt and with the Bulls up by a point, calmly knocked down a pair of shots from the charity stripe.

It wasnt over yet, however, as Bulls point guard C.J. Watsons last-gasp heave hit the back of the rim at the buzzer, but fell short, concluding a grind-it-out battle between two similar teams.

For the second consecutive game, Luol Deng (19 points, 17 rebounds, two blocked shots) got off to a hot start, opening the games scoring and pouring in eight points in the first period while maintaining an aggressive offensive approach. Rip Hamilton (19 points, eight rebounds) also found his touch in the early going, but perhaps the most surprising moment of the first quarter was Asik (10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) starting for the third consecutive game, though the injured Joakim Noah was available and dressed on the Bulls bench knocking down a deep jumper.

Philadelphia recovered, led by point guard Jrue Holiday, who drained a pair of three-pointers early, as well as Iguodala (game-high 20 points), whose biggest contribution might have been an inadvertent elbow to the side of Dengs face, drawing blood and causing his All-Star counterpart to temporarily exit the contest the small forward would return in the second period after receiving stitches and slowing down his scoring. Following a Lou Williams jumper in the waning seconds of the first quarter, the Sixers held a 24-22 lead.

Chicagos reserves led the charge early in the second stanza, as John Lucas IIIs scoring and Taj Gibsons (14 points, five rebounds, two blocks) energetic play on both ends, as well as more exploits from Asik fluidly catching a bullet pass and finishing with a dunk, plus the foul, then making the ensuing free throw to complete the traditional three-point play got them a slim cushion. But the Sixers stole the momentum right back, as a technical foul on Gibson, contributions from reserve forward Thaddeus Young, an afterthought in the series as of late, and the hot shooting of guards Holiday and Williams, the Sixth Man of the Year runner-up, bought them some separation.

In all, the hosts went on a 11-0 run, changing the tenor of the game and with it, igniting the home crowd, which came alive and turned the Wells Fargo Center into the hostile environment for road teams Philadelphia audiences have been notorious for over the years. The Bulls eventually quashed the spurt, mostly behind Gibson whose improbable triple off the glass to beat the shot clock would have been the second three-pointer of his career, was ruled to be after the buzzer during the break but the visitors still went into the intermission facing a 48-40 deficit.

The third quarter didnt start well for either squad, but while the Sixers werent exactly offensively proficient, they were better than the Bulls, who didnt record a second-half field goal until nearly five minutes into the period. Most of the visitors scoring struggles could be pinned squarely on Carlos Boozer (three points, 13 rebounds), as the power forward missed 10 of his first 11 shot attempts though, in fairness, he also corralled 13 rebounds during the same span and Philadelphias lead swelled to double digits, as the Sixers like Iguodala got into transition for thunderous fast-break finishes.

But despite the raucous crowd and all of the home teams momentum, the perimeter trio of Deng, Hamilton and Watson (10 assists), who made more of an impact with his playmaking than with his scoring, made the deficit manageable again, aided by the Sixers poor shot selection and general inability to score.

During the 16-4 Bulls run, Deng, taking the role of go-to scorer for the second straight contest, and Hamilton, playing a sidekick role, scored off jumpers, drives, on offensive rebounds and in transition, and with Chicagos stout defense backing them, the game was tied at 63 apiece heading into the final stanza.

The Bulls scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to make it a 20-4 extended run, but it was their defense an incredible stand led by the shot-blocking of Asik and Gibson denied the Sixers a bucket on four point-blank chances during a single possession that was most crucial. Philadelphia didnt fade away, however, and with the crowd on its feet and just under the midway mark in the quarter, Iguodala knocked down a three-pointer to tie the contest at 70.

A long ball from Williams with just over four minutes remaining regained the lead for the Sixers, but it was short-lived, as a Deng layup off a well-drawn inbounds play out of a timeout gave the Bulls a 74-73 advantage, which the Bulls maintainedvia multiple offensive reboundsinto the games stretch run and then extended to a three-point spread after Gibson made a pair of foul shots with 2:03 left.

After seemingly going an eternity without scoring, Philadelphia cut it to a one-point deficit with 43.9 seconds to go, as center Spencer Hawes finished a reverse layup in traffic, but following a timeout, a dunk by Asik, not exactly renowned for having a great set of hands, made it 78-75 in the Bulls favor with 25.8 seconds remaining.

On the ensuing possession, Young scored on a driving layup with 12 seconds on the clock and the Bulls pushed the ball before it again ended up in Asiks hands, and the center was fouled with seven seconds left. The woeful free-throw shooter missed both of his attempts and Iguodala corralled the second shot, drove the ball the distance of the court and was fouled with 2.2 seconds left, setting up the dramatic conclusion.

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Is Rajon Rondo avoiding his former coach?

During Tuesday night's Bulls-Mavericks game, Rondo awkwardly ran behind Mavs coach Rick Carlisle as the third quarter was winding down.

Take a look at the play in the video above.

Rondo, who played with the Mavericks in the 2014-15 season, had a weird relationship with Carlisle. Most notably, he and Carlisle had a heated exchange during a game on Feb. 24, 2015 against the Toronto Raptors. It eventually led to Carlisle saying that Rondo was a bad fit for the Mavericks and that the team should have never traded for him.

On Tuesday, Rondo apparently shook Carlisle's hand before he checked in the game for the first time in the first quarter. 

All is well, it seems, but that was still weird.