The Philadelphia 76ers didn't exactly play highlight reel basketball against the Chicago Bulls this past weekend. But Sixers fans like myself are used to ugly stretches and low-scoring battles from this team, which seemed to be a much better formula in the first half of the season. Yet winning with defense and the occasional offense seemed to stop working in the second half for the Sixers - but the playoffs have been another matter.
Like in Game 3 on May 4, the Sixers took advantage of a shorthanded Bulls squad in Game 4 on May 6, but it wasn't pretty. Without Derrick Rose in Game 3, the Bulls still held a big fourth quarter lead before giving it up - and even without Rose and Joakim Noah in Game 4, Chicago still had a chance to steal momentum from Philadelphia. However, the Sixers got just enough yet again in Game 4 to pull out an 89-82 triumph and emerge with a 3-1 series lead.
It looked like Philadelphia would dominate early on, as it jumped to its strongest start in this series with a 10-point first quarter lead. But Chicago slowly started to wake up while its opponent went cold, as Spencer Hawes was the only Sixer with any offense to speak of. His 17 first-half points kept the Sixers ahead going into halftime, yet the Philadelphia offense didn't get any hotter to start the third.
While the third quarter was where the Sixers took control in Game 2 on May 1, it worked against them for a second straight game as the Bulls went ahead. But just as Chicago hung around after a slow first half start, Philadelphia kept within range after a poor second half start and then made its move.
With the Sixers shooting just under 40 percent, the Bulls shooting at exactly 40 percent and both teams missing countless three-point shots, points were at a premium for the second straight game. Six big ones for Philadelphia came from consecutive Jrue Holiday three-pointers, yet Chicago still almost rallied back and tied things up afterwards. However, the Sixers seem to be better at winning ugly than the Bulls are - especially without the likes of Rose and Noah around to make things prettier.
Although the Bulls have as much of a staunch defense as the Sixers, they are clearly suffering without Rose as the offensive x-factor. Of course, few thought that Philadelphia could knock off Chicago even after Rose was injured, so token credit still has to go the Sixers' way. After all, the Bulls could have still swept them in Philadelphia and taken control in spite of being shorthanded.
But in both Game 3 and Game 4, the Sixers gutted out a few bad stretches and put together just enough good ones to survive. While they aren't winning pretty - and their wins may have asterisks attached to them no matter what - they rediscovered a winning formula all over again in Philadelphia. Yet it would be nice to repeat it in Chicago for Game 5 on May 8, so that the Sixers won't have to try it at the Wells Fargo Center again - at least in round one.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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