The Chicago Bulls had Game 6 within their grasp. They had the ball. Just 12 seconds to play. And a one-point lead. But in possibly the most questionable play of the postseason, backup point guard C.J. Watson placed Chicago’s playoff hopes in the hands of Omer Asik, which helped the Philadelphia 76ers become the fifth eight seed in NBA history to knock off the top seed in the first round. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 20 points while Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday each had 14 in Philadelphia’s 79-78 come from behind victory. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 19 points and 17 rebounds while Rip Hamilton also pitched in 19.
It was a great win for the Sixers, but a terrible loss for the Bulls, who completely choked down the stretch after leading by three points with just 25 seconds left in the game. Philly got a quick two, cutting Chicago’s lead to one. The Bulls were able to inbound the ball to C.J. Watson, which was followed by a questionable no-call when Jrue Holiday tried to foul him from behind. That no-call looked like it was going to be beneficial for the Bulls (it allowed them to waste more time on the clock) when Watson took the ball the length of the court and found himself in a 2-on-1 with just Spencer Hawes standing between Watson, Asik and a Game 7 in Chicago. But then C.J. Watson made an incredibly dumb decision and instead of dribbling the ball out to waste a few more precious seconds and be sent to the free throw line himself, he passed the ball off to Asik, a 46 percent free throw shooter, who was immediately fouled by Hawes. Watson, an 81 percent free throw shooter, effectively sealed Chicago’s fate as much as Asik did by missing the two free throw attempts that followed. Andre Iguodala then did the smart thing by attacking the basket with the game on the line, got fouled, and made both free throws with just two seconds left to finish off the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls. Watson had room to dribble out. He could have faked the pass and taken the ball to the rim to at least draw the foul. But he passed to Asik, Asik bricked both attempts at the line and Iguodala took it from there.
Such a demoralizing collapse down the stretch seemed to be a fitting end for a team decimated with injuries to key players that many said had a chance to contend with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals at the start of the postseason. When Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 with an ACL tear, it was fairly obvious the Bulls’ title hopes were devastated, but when Joakim Noah missed the end of Game 4 along with Games 5 and 6, it became clear their chances of even advancing to the next round were slim. And even with all of those problems and Carlos Boozer having a bad shooting night in Game 6, the Bulls found a way to push this series to six games. Credit Doug Collins and Philadelphia for doing what they needed to to win a playoff series, but Sixers fans, it’s time to bring you back down to earth.
The only reason Philly won this series is that they faced a Bulls team without their best offensive player (Rose), their best defensive player (Noah), and their second best scorer and defender (Luol Deng) played with an ailing wrist for the entire series. Evan Turner turned out to be a prophet after he said the Sixers matched up better with the Bulls than the Heat; it’s pretty easy to match up with a team missing two of its most crucial starters. So as happy as it was for the Sixers to get their first postseason series win since 2003, forgive me if I’m not jumping up and down with excitement about their “storybook run.” Nothing has changed; this is still the same mediocre Philly squad that plays solid defense but can’t score to save their lives. Philadelphia has their work cut out for them in the second round against the Boston Celtics, a group of veterans who just caught a huge break with Chicago being upset. Celtics fans should be ecstatic about the Sixers’ win, since it almost guarantees Boston will reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless the Celtics suffer a similarly catastrophic series of injuries to key players, the Sixers’ jubilation over beating such an undermanned Bulls squad will be pretty short-lived.