Coming off a Game 1 win in which they mostly dominated the action, then watched superstar Derrick Rose suffer a devastating, season-ending torn left ACL injury, the Bulls vowed to play with the same ferocity they did when Rose was absent for approximately half of the regular season. During that time, they achieved the leagues best record for the second consecutive season.
Well, the plan worked for a half Tuesday night, before the Bulls succumbed to a barrage from the 76ers, falling 109-92 in Game 2 of the first-round series, which is now tied at one game apiece.
Despite Roses injury, the home team and its supporters had ample reason to be in high spirits, as the reigning league MVP surprised fans by presenting the game ball to the referees at the outset of the contest before watching his teammates from a luxury suite in the arena. Without the All-Star point guard, the Bulls exemplified balance in the opening period, as all five starters got on the board.
Former All-Stars Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton were especially active in the early goingthe latter dished out four assists, perhaps compensating for the absence of Roses playmaking abilitywhile Joakim Noah (21 points, eight rebounds, five assists) brought his typical energy, All-Star Luol Deng displayed his versatility and fill-in starter C.J. Watson ran the team well.
Meanwhile former Bull Elton Brand, less-than-beloved Chicago native Evan Turner (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists), point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, six assists, 11-for-14 shooting, 3-for-3 from three-point range) and rookie reserve Lavoy Allen (11 points, nine rebounds) were each effective for the visitors, but the Bulls held a 28-25 edge after a quarter of play.
Philadelphia proved that while Roses injury was the story in Chicago, they were more concerned with evening the series and stealing home-court advantage, as Holiday continued to do damage with his penetration and finishing ability, not to mention the Sixers as a whole getting out in transition. At the same time, the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic scoring droughts and appeared generally listless.
To cure their woes, Noah was inserted into the contest and immediately made an impact, particularly on the offensive end, where he was effective off the dribbleincluding making Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young look silly with a dynamic in-and-out moveand knocking down his unorthodox Tornado jumper, complete with his trademark finger funs celebration.
But the star of the quarter was fan favorite John Lucas III (15 points, four assists), who notched 11 points and three assists, finally getting the partisan audience to respond in a manner worthy of the contests magnitude and helping the Bulls take a 55-47 lead into the intermission.
After the break, Philadelphia stormed back behind Holiday, whose torrid outside shooting and dynamic finishing gave the Bulls fits. With Turner, his backcourt mateSixers head coach Doug Collins inserted the West Side product and center Spencer Hawes into the starting lineup for Game 2, giving the visitors more sizeshowcasing his all-around skills and Brand popping out for mid-range jumpers, the Sixers went on a 17-6 run to start the third quarter to seize the lead.
While Watson bounced back from a previously dreadful period to help stem the tide for the time being, it didnt last long, as Philadelphia got out in transitionAll-Star swingman Andre Iguodalas monster dunk, plus the foul, hushed the crowdand Turner found his rhythm. With the games momentum dramatically shifting, aided by multiple dunks in both transition and even against the Bulls set defense, the Sixers lead ballooned, putting the hosts in a 83-69 hole entering the final stanza.
Philadelphia continued to pour it on at the outset of the fourth quarter, dominating the Bulls vaunted defense in the paint and scoring on the break, as the likes of reserves Young, Allen and Lou Williams (20 points, six assists)the Sixth Man of the Year candidate and his teams leading scorer during the regular season found his offensive game and torched the Bulls in a variety of ways, from alley-oops and transition layups to contested pull-up jumpers and tough finisheswere all major factors.
As the game shockingly headed toward blowout status, the United Center crowd voiced its displeasure with the home team and a portion began to exit midway through the period with the Bulls deficit hovering around 20 points.
The energy that marked the Bulls regular season without Rose in the lineup simply wasnt therethat held true for the fans, tooand there would be no miraculous comeback, as the Sixers just isolated their preferred matchups and successfully attacked one-on-one off the dribble.
Now, after giving up home-court advantage in the series, the Bulls must look in the mirror and determine how much fortitude they have after taking a beating, then go on the road and win in a hostile environment.