The Philadelphia 76ers are holding a stunning 2-1 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs. With two more wins, Sixers fans like myself will immortalize this team for pulling off one of the big upsets in recent memory. However, everyone else will view the Sixers as merely a lucky team, since the Bulls' losses are being credited more to their own injuries.
Thanks to Derrick Rose being out for the postseason, no Bulls opponent will get sole credit for beating them - perhaps not even the Miami Heat if they get the chance. If that wasn't enough, now Joakim Noah's future is in jeopardy after he sprained his right ankle in Game 3 on May 4. Since the Sixers used his absence to trigger a late 26-7 run and a 79-74 comeback win, the Bulls now have two injuries to blame for their losses more than their actual opponent.
Although it was Philadelphia who finally got going just in time to steal the victory, few will likely believe that it could have happened with Noah still on the floor. Likewise, few believe that the Sixers would even have one win in this series if Rose wasn't hurt, let alone two wins in three games. Therefore, if Philadelphia actually wins this series, the credit will mostly go to Chicago for losing it due to injuries.
The Memphis Grizzlies took early advantage of injuries when the eighth-seed upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in 2011. It all started when Manu Ginobili missed Memphis's Game 1 win, and he was never at full strength when he came back. Yet the Grizzlies were more shorthanded since Rudy Gay was out for the year, although that didn't stop them from overwhelming the banged up Spurs. This meant most of the credit went to Memphis, which then backed up that it was for real by pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the second round.
A Bulls team without Rose is different from a Grizzlies club without Gay, or even a Spurs squad without Ginobili. If Noah misses any time, especially with the Bulls already down by 2-1, it will change them even further. But while Chicago is changing and getting weaker, it is still up to Philadelphia to get stronger.
Although the Sixers are winning more now, they were not doing that for much of the season's second half. If they were playing like they were a few weeks ago, the losses of Rose and Noah would not make a shred of difference. Yet the hot second half in Game 2 proved that Philadelphia could be good again, regardless of who the opposition sends out there - and the end of Game 3 proved it further.
It will still take a while to prove that Rose's injury isn't the only reason the Sixers are winning. However, actually winning a few more games - at least two more in the next four - should help prove it eventually. Then maybe a few more victories after that will show that the Sixers don't just have Rose to thank for this unlikely run.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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