PHILADELPHIA – The numbers uglying up the boxscore were making non-believers of many at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. Some left early. Others stayed but with little hope that the Philadelphia 76ers could dig themselves out with so little going their way.
After living through it once, the Sixers got to see it again on video. By the time they gathered midday Saturday for their film session, they knew how the story ended – a 79-74 victory over Chicago in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. And even then it was hard to believe, the way the negatives stacked against them.
“I stopped the tape and it was 69-56 with, like, 9:13 to go,” head coach Doug Collins said at the team’s practice facility. “And I said, ‘How many people watching the game or in the arena last night gave you any chance to win this game? Ain’t anybody outside this room thought we were going to win that game. But you did it. And that’s what you have to do. Those are the kinds of games we have to find a way.’ Our guys summoned up a way to do it.”
- The Sixers shot just 34.2 percent against the Bulls. In the regular season, they were 2-12 when they made less than 40 percent of their shots. The Bulls, meanwhile, were 18-2 when holding foes below 40 percent.
- Philadelphia trailed 60-51 after three quarters. It was 2-23 this season when behind at the start of the fourth quarter. The Bulls were 41-3, and 18-1 on the road, when leading after three.
- Collins’ team scored just 79 points and beat a team that was 22-0 when holding opponents under 100. Philadelphia was 2-18 when failing to score 90. The last time the franchise won a playoff game while scoring fewer than 80 points, it was known as the Syracuse Nationals beating the Minneapolis Lakers 65-63 on April 11, 1954. The introduction of the 24-second clock was still six months away.
- Philadelphia was 5-18 this season in games decided by seven points or less. Chicago was 16-7.
- The Sixers took 14 3-point shots and missed 13 of them. They managed only 13 assists and 10 fast-break points. They scored 11 points in the third quarter. They got no points from forward Elton Brand and five from frontcourt partner Andre Iguodala.
But the confidence that Philadelphia had gained in Game 2, thanks to their third-quarter beatdown of the No. 1-seeded Bulls in Chicago, was there to tap into Friday. Another debilitating Chicago injury – this time, center Joakim Noah severely sprained his left ankle after stepping on Iguodala’s foot on a break – snapped them into focus and helped out with the X&Os. After that, it was up to them.
“I think we grew a little bit last night,” guard Evan Turner said, citing the Sixers’ will as the deciding factor. “We were down 14. Saw a few people leaving and stuff. And we just kept fighting. We weren’t making shots. It seemed like they were doing everything right. But y’know, in the huddle, we were like, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ “
So what was the mood like in the video room when Collins paused the image and touted his team’s concentration and duty? “Guys are tired,” the Sixers’ coach said, shrugging. “Of me and physically.”
Collins didn’t need to rouse the troops Saturday. They had done that themselves Friday, and that was all the reward he needed. Center Spencer Hawes shook off a poor start to score 21 points, guard Jrue Holiday survived foul trouble for 17 and Turner coped with various defensive chores while earning key late free throws with bonus efforts.
“When I watched our guys going up and hugging each other after the game, the joy they felt, the sense of accomplishment, made me feel really good,” he said. “That’s the thing I’ve tried to build. I’m a people guy, I’m a relationship guy, I’m a connection guy. And I think when you have that with your team, you can overcome a lot of obstacles.”
Noah isn’t likely to obstruct anything in Game 4. He still was hobbling around the Bulls’ hotel on crutches and was termed “doubtful” to play by head coach Tom Thibodeau, who rarely shows his cards early on truly iffy injuries. Without their starting center and their MVP point guard, Derrick Rose, the Bulls will scramble for offense and sift through their options up front. Whether that means using Taj Gibson or Omer Asik more, or going small with Carlos Boozer shifting over and Luol Deng moving in at power forward.