2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

Rajon Rondo Sinks Sixers, Leads Celtics To Eastern Conference Finals

With just over four minutes to play and nursing a three point lead, the Celtics’ leading scorer for the regular season fouled out and left his team’s hopes of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals looking pretty slim. Luckily for Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo had just what Boston needed to finish off the resilient Sixers at home and pull out an 85-75 victory in a decisive Game 7 to win the right to play the Miami Heat in the next round.

Rajon Rondo scored nine straight points for the Celtics with a barrage of highlights to turn their three point advantage into a 10 point lead and after Elton Brand cut the lead back down to eight, Rondo hit a pair of clutch free throws to give Boston an 80-70 lead. Rondo hit a long two followed by his first 3-pointer in five games to send TD Garden into a frenzy and scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a triple double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Sixers stayed resilient until the end and kept the pressure on Doc Rivers’ squad throughout the night, but Rondo’s fourth quarter burst ended their playoff hopes and pulled his team within a few games of playing for yet another NBA title.

Rajon Rondo took over down the stretch and led the Celtics past Philly with a triple double.

Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Brandon Bass added 16 points and Pierce had 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. Ray Allen, who missed his first five 3-point attempts, finally warmed up in the fourth quarter and nailed two shots from beyond the arc to shift momentum back in Boston’s favor. The Sixers were led by Andre Iguodala’s 18 points, and Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday each had 15. Unfortunately for Philly, the scoring stopped there. Lou Williams finished with just seven, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner only had six apiece and Spencer Hawes could only manage four. The Sixers hit shots when they needed to to keep themselves within reach, but they never could never take the lead down the stretch as they shot only 35 percent from the floor and Boston answered the call every time with a big bucket to extend the lead. Boston lived up to their reputation of being the veteran squad by responding every time the Sixers came knocking on the door, but the most credit has to go to Rondo for his late game heroics that earned the Celtics a matchup with the Miami Heat.

As I said in my last Celtics-Sixers post, Philadelphia and its fans should be proud of what they accomplished this season. They did benefit from playing a banged up Celtics squad (after beating a Chicago Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah), but they still took care of business and pushed an experienced Boston team to the brink before coming up short. They had a shot, but playing against this veteran team on the road didn’t bode well for them, especially considering the overall youth of the Sixers. Philadelphia should benefit from this experience and if they can get their hands on a few scorers, they could be competitive again next year. For the Celtics, this series lasted a lot longer than I anticipated, but they showed resilience and moxie by outlasting a young team with poise down the stretch despite being banged up and playing without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender. However it doesn’t really matter who advanced because the winner of this series gets the unfortunate challenge of taking on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston stands a better chance than Philadelphia, but when all is said and done it’ll be the Heat that advance to the NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala and the Sixers came up short but they shouldn’t hang their heads.

Sixers Force Game 7

The Sixers needed a boost in Game 6 to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 back in Boston this Sunday. It turns out they got one from Philadelphia’s old hometown hero. Allen Iverson made an emotional return to the court before the game that had the whole arena cheering. After such a heartwarming moment for AI, the Sixers and the fans, Philly would have been hard-pressed to lose this game. Jrue Holiday got his offense going early and the balanced scoring of the 76ers gave them a huge 82-75 win to send the series back to the TD Garden for a decisive winner-take-all Game 7.

Holiday led the Sixers with 20 points and six assists. Elton Brand followed up Holiday’s big night with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had 12 apiece and Lou Williams had 11 off the bench. As has been the case for the majority of this series, it was a low scoring, slow, defensive game, which definitely favors Philadelphia. The Celtics shot just 33 percent from the floor and could only manage 75 points with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen only putting up nine each. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points and 10 rebounds and Kevin Garnett finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but they got little help from their teammates in another poor offensive outing for Boston. After Brandon Bass’ big night in Game 5, he could only manage eight points on an appalling 2-of-12 shooting night. But who the Celtics really missed was Avery Bradley, who sat out for a second consecutive game with the dislocated shoulder. Bradley is Boston’s best on-the-ball defender, and without him on the floor, Holiday was able to elevate his offensive game and really hurt the Celtics with penetration and solid 7-of-15 shooting. Bradley needs surgery on his shoulder and is done for the rest of the postseason, which means someone will need to find a way to slow down Holiday for the decisive Game 7.

Jrue Holiday took advantage of Avery Bradley’s absence and helped the Sixers force Game 7.

Now the series shifts back to Boston and the pressure is on the banged up Celtics to close out the Sixers at home. However, the Sixers are at a disadvantage because they will be playing on the road in a Game 7 with high stakes against a veteran Boston team that knows how to win playoff games with everything on the line. I’m not convinced Philly will be able to handle the magnitude of a game this important whereas the Celtics live for these kind of games, injuries or not. Paul Pierce will come to play, Kevin Garnett has been a big factor in almost every game of this series so far and Rajon Rondo will step up his game at home. It will take a monumental defensive effort from the Sixers to keep this thing close and they’ll also have to put the ball in the basket even better than they did in Game 6.

Win or lose, Sixers fans should be proud of their team for overachieving during the postseason. They did benefit from playing a Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and they’re also facing a hobbled Boston side right now, but this Philly team has put fans in the bleachers for the first time all year and Doug Collins has done a fantastic job despite not having any prolific scorers. Hopefully Sixers fans will support their team just as much as they have during this postseason next year. For Boston, this game will show everyone just how banged up they really are. At this point, I don’t think either team will compete with the Heat or the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but if the Celtics can somehow play like they were just a few weeks ago when Pierce was healthy, that perception might change.

The Celtics are banged up and limping into Game 7. Will they finish the Sixers off at home?

Brandon Bass Gives Boston 3-2 Lead

It wasn’t a member of Boston’s big three that beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5. It also wasn’t Rajon Rondo who gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 tonight. But Brandon Bass’ breakout night helped the Celts pull away in the third quarter at home and get a huge victory at home that puts pressure on the Sixers to defend their home court. Bass scored 18 of his playoff career high 27 points in the third, which gave the Celtics a convincing win when combined with solid nights from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo.

Garnett had 20, Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists and Pierce added 16 points. Ray Allen, who moved back into the starting lineup, only had five, but Bass’ big night made up for it. The Celtics also got a big boost off the bench from Greg Stiemsma, who had 10 points and three blocks. Avery Bradley did not play, missing the game because of his dislocated shoulder. Elton Brand led Philadelphia with 19 points but had no answer for Bass on the defensive end. Lavoy Allen had 12 off the bench and Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes all reached double digits in scoring, but the Sixers’ normally stifling defense allowed 101 points for the Celtics. Scoring has never been the Sixers’ strong point, so Bass’ explosion on the offensive end was more than enough to give the Celts a much-needed win.

Brandon Bass lifted the Celtics to victory with a big performance in Game 5.

With Game 6 tonight in Philadelphia, the pressure is now back on the Sixers to stave off elimination and force a decisive Game 7 in Boston. The Sixers have been great at home in the postseason as they find their arena filled with fans that didn’t make their presence well known during the regular season. However, Boston has the experience and knowledge of how to win playoff games, so Philly will have their hands full. Doc Rivers was a top candidate for the Coach of the Year Award and the Celtics should still be favorites to close out the overachieving Sixers tonight.

Philadelphia should be proud of what their team has accomplished this season, and hopefully fans will fill the Sixers’ arena next season after this. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times, Philly only made the second round by virtue of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah injuries in the first round. They gained confidence after winning the series and have battled with this banged up Boston team, but the Celtics are just too good to pick against. It’s going to take longer than the five games I predicted, but even if the Sixers defend their court and force Game 7, Boston should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers have their backs against the wall. Can they take Game 6 at home tonight?

Andre Iguodala Lifts Sixers Over Celtics, Evens Series

The Boston Celtics jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and led by as many as 18 in the third quarter, but the Philadelphia 76ers remained resilient to grind their way back into the game, tying the series at 2-2 with a 92-83 win at home. Andre Iguodala hit a few key jump shots down the stretch in Philly’s monumental Game 4 victory and led his team with 16 points and seven rebounds. Evan Turner, who was incredibly inefficient in this one (5-for-22 from the floor), also had 16 while Lou Williams had 15 points and eight assists off the bench. Jrue Holiday continued his consistent contribution by pitching in 11.

The Sixers got off to an extremely slow start as the Celtics looked like they were eager to put the series out of reach as soon as possible, but somehow Philadelphia battled their way back into the game. Despite a 15 point deficit at halftime, the Sixers put together a great third quarter, outscoring Boston 28-17. Philadelphia got big contributions out of their bench and outscored Boston’s bench 44-12. Thaddeus Young had 12, Jodie Meeks pitched in nine and Lavoy Allen added eight. The Sixers also only turned the ball over 11 times compared to the Celtics’ 17. Philly’s rocking home crowd certainly didn’t hurt, and the Celtics were unable to hold on to a three point lead with three and a half minutes to play after every Sixers’ basket sent the crowd into a frenzy. In fact, the Celtics didn’t score for the last minute and a half of the game after a step back jumper and a 3-pointer ignited Wells Fargo Center.

Andre Iguodala finished off the Celtics in the fourth, but do the Sixers have what it takes to win in Boston?

For the Celtics, this loss was devastating in terms of the game, but definitely not in terms of the series. As disappointing as it was to have an 18 point advantage in the third quarter on the road and end up losing by nine, the Celtics are still the favorites in the series because they have home court advantage. Boston would have liked to get this game and have the opportunity to close Philadelphia out at home, but they seem to enjoy adversity and since two out of the next (potential) three games will be in TD Garden, the odds are still against the Sixers. The fact is, losing Game 3 turned the odds back in Boston’s favor no matter the outcome of Game 4. Andre Iguodala knocking down shots down the stretch was impressive, but really only amounted to the Sixers doing what they should have done in Game 3. And rest assured, Kevin Garnett won’t be as miserable from the field at home as he was tonight.

Garnett was the third-leading scorer in the playoffs before tonight, but could only manage 11 rebounds and nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. Garnett has dominated Spencer Hawes in the paint during this series, but couldn’t get his shot going in Game 4. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points while Brandon Bass and Rajon Rondo each had 15 points. Aside from KG, the biggest disappointment was Boston’s role players; Avery Bradley only had eight and Ray Allen only had five off the bench. In front of their home crowd for two of the next three games, Philadelphia shouldn’t feel too comfortable that that will happen again. Doug Collins and the Sixers knew they needed to win at home after getting embarrassed in their own gym and they did it. But they still have their work cut out for them to pull off the upset against this veteran Celtic team that uncharacteristically collapsed in the second half. Because it’s not likely that Doc Rivers will allow that to happen again.

Kevin Garnett had an off game. That might not happen again.

Celtics Take 2-1 Lead In Philly

Despite being banged up and not playing well through the first two games, the Boston Celtics finally looked like themselves and dominated Philadelphia on the road in a 107-91 win in Game 3. Kevin Garnett and the Celtics took a 2-1 lead on the series after a dominant second quarter gave them a double-digit lead heading into the second half.

Garnett led the Celtics with 27 points and 13 rebounds, thoroughly dominating Spencer Hawes and the Sixers in the paint. Rajon Rondo looked much more aggressive on the offensive end from the beginning, driving in the lane and finishing with 23 points and 14 assists. And Paul Pierce, whose shot has been iffy in the playoffs, had 24 points and 12 rebounds despite 6-for-17 shooting as he got to the free throw line 14 times (and hit 11). So even though Avery Bradley put up a goose egg and Ray Allen only had 3 points, the Celtics were able to reach triple digits and make a statement on their opponents’ floor.

Rajon Rondo was much more aggressive on the offensive end and it paid off for the Celtics.

For the Celtics, losing this game surrendered the momentum they battled so hard for in Game 2. The Sixers’ offense was out of sorts and despite reaching 91 points, Philly wasn’t getting the right guys looks. Andre Iguodala, who was having a hot streak over the last few games, only got six shots and finished with 10 points. Evan Turner went 1-for-10 and he and Spencer Hawes only had four points each. Jrue Holiday led the starters with 15 points and Thaddeus Young had 22 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Boston’s much improved offensive night. Jodie Meeks was a pleasant surprise with 13 points off the bench and Lou Williams also had 13, but unless the Sixers’ starters pitch in more points on the offensive end while limiting at least one of the Celtics’ biggest three threats (Garnett, Pierce and Rondo), they don’t have a chance of winning this series.

Boston already handled their business on the road by winning at least one game, but now Philadelphia has to be careful they don’t allow the Celtics to take another one. Iguodala was playing well before Game 3 and not getting him more shots is a mistake. If Young can duplicate his breakout performance and Philly can get anything out of their post players, the Sixers will be back in business. But Garnett has been a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court in this series and won’t give up anything easy. Looks like this banged up, aging Celtic team isn’t as vulnerable as we thought.

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them now after they couldn’t stop Boston at home.

Sixers Even Series At 1-1

In possibly the ugliest game of the postseason so far, the Philadelphia 76ers executed down the stretch and got a critical road victory with a 82-81 win over Boston in Game 2 tonight. The Celtics and Sixers bombarded the rims in TD Garden with a barrage of bricks, with both teams shooting under 42 percent from the field.

The game was incredibly uneventful until things picked up in the fourth quarter, due mostly to awful shooting displays and numerous turnovers on both sides. Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 18 points, knocking down four 3-pointers and allowing his team to head back to Philadelphia with the series tied at one game apiece. Andre Iguodala finished with 13 and Evan Turner added 10. Philly was down 38-36 at halftime, but outscored the Celtics by ten in the third quarter as Boston could only muster 11 points. These measly 11 points followed a 12-point second quarter, but the Sixers’ eight point advantage heading into the fourth didn’t last long. Kevin Garnett was a leader once again with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but no one else was able to step up offensively for the Celtics. Ray Allen had 17 off the bench, but Paul Pierce only had seven and Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley only had eight each. Pierce went 2-for-9 from the floor and Rondo was 4-for-12. If the Celtics’ shooting struggles continue for these two key players, Boston will have their hands full against the defensively oriented 76ers.

Kevin Garnett played well again for Boston but no one else showed up.

Philly only won by one point, but Boston hit two 3-pointers in the game’s closing seconds to make the final score appear closer than it was. Down the stretch, the Sixers remained resilient and out-executed the veteran Celtics to get the critical road victory. Although they did benefit from a ridiculously difficult Lavoy Allen turnaround jumper with 0.9 seconds on the shot clock, a terrible no-call (Evan Turner travel that wasn’t called) and a questionable call considering the circumstances (Kevin Garnett’s illegal screen on Andre Iguodala) down the stretch, Boston didn’t do what it had to in crunch time and the Sixers capitalized. The Celtics failed to get the ball to Garnett or Pierce in the game’s final possessions, settling for Ray Allen step back jumpers and turning the ball over. The Sixers also won this game on the boards, out-rebounding Boston 47-36.

With the series shifting back to Philly, there has to be concern on the Celtics’ sidelines. Boston looked like a completely uninspired team and no one could score on Philly’s defense except KG. Andre Iguodala has shut down Paul Pierce in the series and Rondo hasn’t produced offensively either. Avery Bradley also reaggravated his shoulder injury at the beginning of the game, so if he misses extended time again, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams will be able to put up good numbers again. Bradley has already been playing with a dislocated shoulder, so if the injury continues to bother him, the Sixers will have a big advantage on the perimeter. Boston needs to come out with renewed energy and make a statement in Game 3 to ensure the Sixers don’t get their hopes up with back-to-back games at home. Philly’s defensive strategy has kept them even so far, but at some point, enough has to be enough and the Celtics will need to reassert themselves as the favorites in the series.

Jrue Holiday has been a huge contributor for the Sixers in the playoffs so far.

Boston Squeaks Out Game 1 Win

Andre Iguodala and the Philadelphia 76ers gave the Celtics everything they could handle in the opening game of the second round, but Boston would not be denied at home in the fourth quarter and edged Philly in a 92-91 win. Kevin Garnett led the Celts with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a dominant performance that gave his team a 1-0 series lead despite a very impressive effort from the Sixers.

I predicted that Boston would win this series in five games, and I still stand by that prediction, but Philadelphia definitely played like a worthy second-round opponent in Game 1. Andre Iguodala led Philly with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Evan Turner had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Hawes pitched in 15 points and eight boards of his own. I predicted that Spencer Hawes would not be a factor, that Avery Bradley and the Celtics’ D would shut down Philly’s streaking guards (Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams) and that Kevin Garnett would be dominant against Hawes. Two out of three isn’t bad: Garnett single-handedly led Boston to victory and Holiday and Williams combined for just 17 points on 7-of-24 shooting. And although Hawes was much more productive on the offensive end than I thought he’d be, as long as the Celtics duplicate their effort in Game 1, they should have few problems closing this series up quickly.

Kevin Garnett dominated Game 1. Can Philly stop him in this series?

The fact is, Iguodala had to put up quite a valiant shooting performance (especially from beyond the arc) to keep Philadelphia in the game. With Bradley limiting Philly’s guards, Iguodala became the Sixers’ primary scorer, and if he starts to take the majority of his team’s shots, we could see another performance like Game 5 against the Bulls, when he went 4-for-19. Iguodala is not a consistent 3-point shooter and the Sixers are not likely to out-shoot the Celtics from downtown like they did in Game 1 (Philly shot 5-for-14 from 3-point range while Boston shot a dismal 2-for-18). If the Celtics start hitting their 3-pointers, the Sixers won’t be able to keep up on the offensive end, even with their terrific team defense.

Kevin Garnett should continue to exploit his matchup on the offensive end, but keep in mind that Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have stellar performances in Game 1 and the Celtics still got the win. Yes, Rondo had yet another triple double (13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds), but other than his clear ability to facilitate, it wasn’t the strongest triple double in the world and we’ve come to overvalue triple doubles these days anyway. But regardless, Rondo and Pierce can still score more if they shoot the ball better (Pierce was 3-for-11 and Rondo was 6-for-15). Credit Philadelphia’s defense for making it difficult on two of Boston’s three best players, but whether or not they can do it consistently over the course of a series with an early one game deficit remains to be seen. Philadelphia did win their last series after being faced with an early deficit, but it took a myriad of injuries to the Bulls for that to happen. Unless Paul Pierce’s sprained MCL develops into something worse and completely takes him out of the series, Boston is looking just fine despite the narrow Game 1 victory.

Andre Iguodala will need to continue to score for Philly to have a chance in this series.

Iguodala Free Throws, Late Chicago Collapse Advances Sixers

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.

Jrue Holiday tried to foul C.J. Watson and made contact, but the no-call set up a terrible decision that sent Chicago home early.

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.

Andre Iguodala hit the free throws when they mattered and Omer Asik couldn’t.

Injury-Ridden Bulls Fading Fast

The biggest disappointment of the 2012 NBA Playoffs so far has been the Chicago Bulls, who are in full collapse mode after dropping a pivotal Game 3 to a very underwhelming Philadelphia team and being crippled with injuries to two star players. Losing Derrick Rose eliminated them from contending for the NBA Finals, but losing Joakim Noah to a sprained left ankle might result in an appalling first round exit.

Make no mistake: the Philadelphia 76ers are not the better team here. The Chicago Bulls have been able to win without Derrick Rose all season, but with Joakim Noah now unlikely for Game 4 and given the way Luol Deng and C.J. Watson have absolutely fallen flat on their faces so far in this series, Thibodeau’s squad is practically handing the series over to a weak Sixers side. Losing Game 2 was unfortunate, but ultimately excusable because the entire city was still shell-shocked to see their superstar’s leg (and their title hopes) crumble right in front of them. Game 3 became a very pivotal contest that would make a statement about what direction the series would take: Would the Bulls show Philadelphia and everyone else that they still deserved to be taken seriously? Or would the Sixers take advantage of a key injury and sneak in a victory at home? Unfortunately for Chicago, when Noah went down in the third quarter, the Sixers were able to rally from a 14 point deficit in the fourth behind Spencer Hawes to answer that question decisively.

With Joakim Noah out, Spencer Hawes had a big fourth quarter and led the Sixers to a Game 3 win.

When you’re giving up fourth quarter rallies to guys who haven’t produced in months like Spencer Hawes, you know you have some issues (with Noah, Chicago’s center, leaving the game injured at the top of the list). Hawes finished with 21 points and nine rebounds after totaling just seven points and seven rebounds in the first two games of the series. With Derrick Rose sidelined, an area where the Bulls should have been able to find an advantage (defense on Philly’s point guards) has actually hurt them. Jrue Holiday had 17, Evan Turner had 16 and Lou Williams had 14 off the bench. And even though the Bulls held the Sixers to just 79, they couldn’t put up enough points on the board to win, being outscored 28-14 in the fourth quarter. Noah’s injury hurt and provided the spark for Spencer Hawes to go off, but Luol Deng has absolutely killed Chicago with his inability to knock down shots (five points in Game 3, eight points in Game 2). C.J. Watson hasn’t stepped in and been a quality backup point guard with Rose out, tacking on 12 points in Game 2 but failing to score in Game 3. John Lucas has been a bright spot, averaging 13.5 ppg in his last two, but it hasn’t been enough to get Chicago a win. What’s even worse is that Carlos Boozer has finally appeased Chicago fans and critics by playing consistently good basketball, scoring and rebounding well night in and night out. It figures it would come at a time when Chicago is missing two of its best players and has little chance of contending for a title anymore.

The Bulls aren’t done yet, but unless they win Games 4 and 5, they’ll most likely be going home early, which is disappointing considering the success they’ve had this season despite dealing with injury problems. Without Joakim Noah, who is a huge part of Chicago’s offense with his interior passing and their defense with his rebounding, I can’t say the Bulls will put up much of a fight. In the playoffs, it’s much harder to weather the injury storm and the Bulls are giving us a pretty clear example of that. This is not a case of Philadelphia playing great basketball and becoming a dangerous team on their way to an upset or anything like that. Philadelphia has simply taken advantage of Chicago’s misfortune as any playoff team should. Evan Turner looks like a prophet after saying his team matched up better with the Chicago Bulls than the Miami Heat; it’s a lot easier matchup when the other team is missing two vital players. Which means the Sixers are not dangerous, they can’t score consistently enough to give anyone else a challenge, and if they advance to the next round, whether they play the Celtics or the Hawks, they will most likely be going home.

Losing Derrick Rose wasn’t a death sentence for the series. But losing Joakim Noah on top of that just might be.