CHICAGO — There were hero moments to remember in the Chicago Bulls’ 77-69 victory that staved off elimination in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night at United Center. In between the vast stretches of ugly basketball and scattershooting, that is.
Here were a few: Luol Deng hitting four 3-pointers, three of them to bail out the Bulls at the end of shot clocks. Taj Gibson, playing like a man possessed and, for a while, like the only Chicago player driven to keep their season alive. And Gibson later, after rolling his right ankle, returning from the training room to sub back in. He still was limping and wasn’t very effective, but what was he to do? The Bulls probably were out of crutches anyway.
But what a lot of folks exiting United Center wonder was, where was that gutsy effort a few games ago?
Like in Game 2, when the Bulls were at home and could have gained real control of the series? Or in Game 3, when they led by 14 points in the fourth quarter but rolled over late on Philadelphia’s court? Chicago wouldn’t be any healthier — MVP Derrick Rose still is headed to surgery with the torn ACL in his left knee and center Joakim Noah is only hoping against hope that this series might last long enough for him to play on a severely sprained left ankle.
That’s the big what-if that will hang over the Bulls until — unless — they dig themselves all the way out of the 3-1 hole they excavated for themselves in the best-of-seven set. What if they had responded the way they did in Game 5, only sooner?
At least Deng (24 points, eight rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 13 boards, six assists) stepped up among the starters. Gibson was terrific until he hit the deck, with eight points, seven rebounds and, in his first 12 minutes, five blocked shots.
Philadelphia again sputtered badly in halfcourt offense. Imagine how worse its shooting would have been — 32.1 percent as it was, on 25 of 78 field goal attempts — if not for a 23-9 edge in fastbreak scoring. Jrue Holiday scored 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting and Andre Iguodala went 4-of-19 en rout to his 11 points. The Sixers get to go home now, but the Bulls will try to make Game 6 feel like Game 7 to them.