Bulls to brink in playoffs with 89-82 loss in Game 4


May 6

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This season mostly has been one beautiful view for the Bulls with the league’s best record and confidence they could reach the top of the NBA mountain. Now, one more bad step backward and it’s all over. Yes, the Bulls have found themselves on the edge of the NBA playoff cliff with nowhere else to go.

It’s either all the way down or a step ahead at a time.

That’s because with Sunday’s 89-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls fell behind 3-1 in the first round playoff series. Game 5 is in Chicago Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

If the Bulls lose they would become just the fifth NBA top seeded team to lose to an eighth seed in the opening playoff series. Though none has experienced what the Bulls have with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both going out with injuries.

“Now it’s must win,” said Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Taj Gibson was big off the bench with 14 points and 12 rebounds and C.J. Watson added 17 points after a slow start, but on five of 18 shooting.

“We’ve got to fight like dogs in Game 5,” said Boozer. “We’ve got to play 48 minutes of great Chicago Bulls basketball and bring it back here for Game 5. Obviously, the series is very different without D. Rose and Joakim. Even with Joakim, I feel we win Game 3 (nine point fourth quarter lead when he went out). But we’re in the situation we’re in. We’ve got guys who can step up and we need that now.”

The Bulls outrebounded the 76ers, who were led by Spencer Hawes with 22 points and Jrue Holiday with 20, the latter with two big three pointers late in the fourth quarter. The Bulls again shot better than the 76ers, had more assists and an 11-10 edge on fast break points. But the 76ers were 22 of 31 on free throws while the Bulls were 11 of 14.

“Listen, we’re not going to sit here and blame the referees for our loss,” said Boozer. “It was our fault we lost the game. We gave up 25 points in the fourth quarter. Again, that’s too many points in the fourth quarter. But the discrepancy is huge. I thought we were being pretty aggressive. We got (them) in the penalty early (in the fourth quarter at 6:26). But we didn’t get as many free throws as they did, which is tough. But that’s not why we lost. We lost because we didn’t contain their guards in the fourth quarter.

“It’s been tough because both games in Philadelphia we felt we should have won,” said Boozer. “Even today with all the things going against us, slow start, shots not going in, not getting calls we thought we should get, turnovers. We still felt like we could have and should have won the game. Last game we had a lead late. So from that perspective it’s frustrating.

“But we’re still going to attack,” said Boozer. “I thought Lu was super aggressive. C.J. was aggressive. We’ve got to continue to have our confidence and believing we can go in there and win.”

The Bulls got off to an uncertain start with Noah sitting on the bench in a suit and wearing a large walking boot. He likely is out for the series even though coach Tom Thibodeau lists him at day to day.

The Bulls were relying too much on jump shots early and fell behind 24-15 with Omer Asik getting his third start at center. Asik had one point, six rebounds and three blocks in 23 and a half minutes.

Gibson got the Bulls back in the game with 10 straight points to open the second quarter and the game went back and forth with the 76ers guards firing miss after miss, though the 76ers led 44-42 at halftime.

The 76ers hung onto a 64-63 lead after three quarters with the 76ers guards, Evan Turner, Holiday and Lou Williams off the bench a combined nine of 38 through three quarters.

“Holiday, he’s tough,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought he played him well, and Holiday has the ability to make tough shots. He’s clever with the dribble and you have to rely on your team defense. You have to finish your defense.”

That hurt on Holiday’s two fourth quarter threes, though Gibson provided good help on one and Holiday just got it off, and on the other Watson got screened off by Hawes.

The 76ers pulled ahead 80-73 with 3:37 left on that second Holiday three. But the Bulls fought back with a Boozer hard drive for a three point play, good defense forcing a 24-second violation and Watson with a pull up jumper to get within 80-78.

Hawes then had a dunk on a nice Williams pass, but Watson responded with an 18 foot step back to bring the Bulls within 82-80 with 1:47 left.

Then came the key sequence, which went against the Bulls.

Boozer drove and seemed to get hit, Hawes seemingly hanging on his arm. There was no call and play went the other way as Holiday drove and Watsonwas called for a bumping foul against Holiday. Holiday made two free throws for an 84-80 76ers lead with 51.5 seconds left.

“We have to find a way,” said Thibodeau. “At the end, it’s going to be hustle plays, tough plays, hard nosed plays, second shots, multiple effort. That’s what it comes down to. You got to make them. We’re fighting, but we can do better. We can do a lot better. You always think that you can do better. For the most part, 21 assists on 34 baskets, that’s pretty good. But we got to score better. We got to get some easy baskets late and you got to make them miss and you got to be able to rebound and run. Then you have to ask yourself, “Are you getting the shots you would like?” Quite frankly, I thought that we had some good hard drives where we didn’t get calls. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, and when that happens you just have to go harder, I guess.”

Boozer then committed a costly turnover losing the ball on a drive. This was the time to either foul, which was way too early, or play good defense. The Bulls did and the 76ers had Andre Iguodala taking a wild shot with the clock about to run out. But he was fouled by Asik, which effectively ended the game when Iguodala made both free throws.

“I thought I got fouled,” said Boozer about the drive at 82-80. “I thought there was a block up top, but I thought there was a lot of contact. The way they were calling it on our side (against the Bulls) I thought there was enough contact to get a call. But no call. You keep playing. You get upset, but you’ve go to keep moving forward.

“Luol maybe could have fouls (called) 10 more times, CJ could have gotten five more. But you’ve got to keep playing. Bottom line we have to play a better defense without fouling. You can’t cry about the referees This is the playoffs. Sometimes you get calls; sometimes you don’t. If we hold them to 17, 18 points in the fourth quarter maybe we win this game.”

If the Bulls want to continue to play after Tuesday, there cannot be any more maybes.

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