The Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers offered a painful exhibition of bad shots, bad shot selection, bad defense and bad ball handling.
And then in the fourth quarter, it was Jrue Holliday, who poured in 10, including back-to-back killer threes that gave the 76ers a seven-point lead they rode to an 89-82 win and a three-games-to-one lead.
I’ll say this: The Bulls were game.
I’ll also say this: They just didn’t have enough game without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
That’s what you’d expect with the Bulls’ missing their best player and their best rebounder and most active defensive presence.
What you didn’t expect was such a close game so late. But that’s largely due to a 76ers team that just isn’t very good, even when it has everything going its way, including another afternoon start when the Bulls didn’t show up.
After again failing to wake up for a noon tipoff, the Bulls got 10 straight points off the bench from Taj Gibson to help wipe out a nine-point first-quarter deficit. They were game, alright.
In the second half, C.J. Watson rained down 17 points. Yes, that C.J. Watson, the one who hadn’t scored since Tuesday. They were still game, indeed, and they were also getting a game from Carlos Boozer, who finished with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.
But Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton combined to miss 12 of 20 shots. Deng has been playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist that he appeared to injure badly on a fall in the first half. I don’t know what Hamilton’s excuse is.
Whatever, if that’s what your veteran leaders are going to do, you have no chance.
The frustrating part is that the Bulls did have a chance, for whatever one win might’ve meant. They had leads in the second half. They were forcing the 76ers into a halfcourt offense they cannot execute. They were within a basket with 2:05 to go.
That’s when the greatest frustration sets in, even with an undermanned team. The Bulls failed to finish. Again. It’s not so much the offense as the defense. They gave up 25 points in the final period. That’s when this team had been at its best in the regular season. But in the last three playoff games, the Bulls have been outscored 79-56 in the fourth quarter.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau indicated unhappiness with the officiating after the 76ers made more free throws than the Bulls were allowed to attempt. Visting teams don’t get a lot of calls. Bad teams get fewer, especially late.
Right now, I feel pity for the Bulls. They don’t want it, of course. No team does. But it’s all I have because all they have isn’t enough.