CHICAGO (AP)—All the Philadelphia 76ers had to do was win, and home-court advantage was theirs for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Instead, the 76ers had one of their worst first quarters of the season and never quite recovered. Now home-court advantage rides on the very last game of the season.
The 76ers’ third straight loss dropped them into a tie with Indiana for third place in the Eastern Conference, and it also clinched the Atlantic Division title for the New Jersey Nets. Both teams wrap up their regular seasons Wednesday night.
A loss could drop Philadelphia to as low as fifth in the East.
“When you lose a ballgame, especially to a team not going to the playoffs, and we’re trying to get home-court advantage, that opens the window to say a lot of negative things about your own team,” Iverson said.
Actually, nothing more really needed to be said. The box score summed it up: The 76ers fell behind 35-18 in the first quarter, when they shot 24 percent from the floor.
“That’s about as bad a first quarter as we played,” coach Larry Brown said. “We had no energy, and took awful shots.”
Though Iverson matched his season high with 42 points, Philadelphia shot 38 percent. Eric Snow was the only other starter in double figures, with 17. The final score might have been even worse if the 76ers hadn’t gone 40-of-44 from the line, including 17-of-18 by Iverson.
They couldn’t find an answer for Eddy Curry, either. Curry made his first eight shots on his way to a career-high 31 points. He might have scored 40 if he hadn’t been in foul trouble.
The Bulls finished the season 30-52; Curry ended up shooting .580 from the field, the highest percentage for the Bulls since 1982-83, when Orlando Woolridge put up the same figure.
Jamal Crawford matched his career best with 33, and the Bulls shot 63 percent, including 10-of-15 from 3-point range. The team’s 30 victories are nine more than last season, and just six fewer than it managed in the two previous seasons combined.
“As a team, we just wanted to end on a good note and get our goal of 30 wins,” said Crawford, who also had eight assists. “It’s exciting for us.”
The Bulls have Curry and Crawford to thank for this one. The two opened the game with their own 13-4 run, and the 76ers were overwhelmed. Curry had a monster first quarter, going 8-for-8 and matching the entire Philadelphia squad with 18 points. He didn’t miss a shot until there was 6:30 left in the first half, and he finished the half with 24 points on 11-of-12 shooting.
“When you are out of the playoffs, it is easy to come in and not give your best effort,” Bulls coach Bill Cartwright said. “I thought our guys have been terrific and showed a lot of character. They showed great spirit.”
Philadelphia trailed by as much as 17 early in the third, but Iverson scored six straight points to pull them to 94-90 with 7:24 left in the game.
But the Baby Bulls responded yet again. Curry scored on a hook shot, and Crawford made a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 99-90 with 6:33 to play. The 76ers never threatened again.
Fans serenaded Curry with chants of “Ed-dy! Ed-dy!” and gave him a standing ovation when he fouled out with 2:45 left.
“Anything looks good when you’re winning, hitting 3s, getting the crowd into it,” Snow said. “They didn’t look so good on Sunday. If they want to do anything, they need to carry over what they did here to next year no matterwho’s on the court.”
New Bulls GM John Paxson got a standing ovation when he was introduced during a timeout midway through the second quarter. Fans remained standing as highlights from his career played on the scoreboard. … Bulls F Donyell Marshall, on the injured list with a strained right shoulder, had his left knee cleaned out Monday. “It’s been swollen for most of the season,” he said. “They wanted to see what was causing the swelling.” … Bulls F Corie Blountneeded four stitches after taking an elbow on the top of his head.