The Bulls didn't take it.
If a team missing its best player and its emotional and defensive leader can choke, then the Bulls did.
Even without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Bulls were better than the 76ers, and they finally showed it in the second half of Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.
The Bulls overcame a 12-point deficit in the third quarter. They owned a five-point lead in the fourth. They had the game. The 76ers were giving up, or turning stupid, take your pick.
The Bulls played some defense, sure, but most the time they didn’t have to because the 76ers were happy to stand on the perimeter and pray that some bad shots went down.
Then the Bulls went down.
C.J. Watson made some awful decisions down the stretch. Omer Asik missed two free throws at the end. The lineup that coach Tom Thibodeau rode for about the last 20 minutes lost its legs. The Bulls’ defense -- so good and so clutch in Thibodeau’s two seasons -- flat ran away with seven seconds to go in trying to protect a one-point lead and the ball 94 feet away.
The decisive play came after Asik’s second missed free throw. Andre Iguodala rebounded the ball under the Bulls’ basket. Incredibly, the Bulls didn’t smother him. Incredibly, not even one player got in his way. Maybe if Thibodeau hadn’t used all his timeouts, then someone could’ve reminded the players to stop the ball on a miss.
But no. Iguodala dribbled the length of the court and was fouled. Iguodala, a guy the 76ers wouldn’t want to see at the free-throw line any more than the Bulls would want Asik there, sank two -- and sank the Bulls.
Perimeter play killed the Bulls all series. There’s a reason Watson is a backup. He missed 9 of 11 shots to go along with those awful decisions in a pressure situation.
But it wasn’t just him. Carlos Boozer missed 8 of 9 shots in the first half, finishing with more fouls than baskets. By the time he had missed the only three shots he took in the third quarter, Boozer also had more turnovers than baskets. Seventy-five million bucks doesn’t buy what it used to.
The ending of Game 6 was as frustrating and painful as this series had been, so it's just as well. This Bulls team was going nowhere. Not like this, anyway. So, now what?
Rose needs to get healthy. Duh. It can’t come soon enough. But one convincing argument this series made was the Bulls’ lack of a reliable second scorer. Wait, isn’t this how last season ended?
You can hope the Bulls amnesty Boozer and make Taj Gibson the starter. I doubt it will happen, but a man can dream. Injured or not, Gibson was a stud when the Bulls needed one. He turned Game 5 before suffering that gruesome-looking ankle injury and had a similar impact on Game 6 with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Hamilton showed a bit of what the Bulls needed -- what the Bulls will need more of going forward -- but the Bulls have to look at that position. He gave the Bulls 19 points and 8 rebounds in Game 6, but Hamilton hasn’t shown he can stay healthy or play consistently.
And please, address backup point guard, because that’s now a starting position without Rose to start next season.
Yeah, next season. It’s here.