Posted May 9 2012 12:06PM
CHICAGO -- One of the post-lockout NBA season's goofier moments came about a month into the season, when the Philadelphia 76ers' new ownership announced that it was bringing back the " Here Come The Sixers" song so popular decades ago, during the team's glory days in the Spectrum. "Clap your hands, everybody / for Philadelphia 76ers! / Stomp your feet, everybody..."
It's dated, it's cheesy, it's incessant and it's infectious. It gets in your head and stays there beyond almost anything else, whether it's the preamble to the Constitution you allegedly learned in junior high or the date of your wedding anniversary.
"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Sixers
10, 9, 8, 76ers..."
The "anthem" from the Doc and Mo and Moses days has been a popular addition to games at Wells Fargo Center since late January. It distinguishes the Sixers' home games, where they are 21-14 through 33 in the regular season and two so far in the playoffs, from their games everywhere else (16-19). That's where they're headed now, their lead in the best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls down to 3-2 after a scrappy but unsatisfying 77-69 loss at United Center Tuesday.
In the spirit of that song -- and because this has become a more interesting series even though it remains unsightly -- we present "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Reasons / The Sixers are in trouble" followed by "5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Sixers / 5 Reasons why that's Bull!"
We'll stick to the basketball stuff. You're on your own with the karaoke.
Taj Gibson went down but he didn't stay down.
Chicago's star point guard, Derrick Rose, was done when he anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee popped near the end of Game 1. Center Joakim Noah managed a few painful-to-watch minutes after gruesomely spraining his left ankle in Game 3 but has been gimpy in street clothes since. But when Gibson went down late in the third quarter, grabbing his right ankle, then retreating to the training room, he didn't stay there.
Gibson came back, hit a basket and gave the Bulls and their fans hope that, if their team can beat injuries for a game, it might be able to do it for a series, too. Everyone's sights have been lowered from any notion of The Finals. But Gibson's off-the-bench impact in Game 5 Tuesday -- blocking shots, running at shooters, banging inside, scuffling down on the court with Elton Brand for a precious 50-50 ball -- was a time capsule moment from the recent past, when the Bulls did have "more than enough to win," as their coach Tom Thibodeau likes to say.
On the 42nd anniversary of Willis Reed's famous MSG moment, limping through the tunnel for Game 7 against the Lakers, Gibson gave Chicago the sense that its team might limp back into this series, too.
Ronnie Brewer showed his toughness.
Brewer has had a disappointing season, both inside and outside of his control. The Bulls signed Richard Hamilton basically on top of him, yet when Hamilton was hurt for so much of the regular season, Brewer didn't seize the opportunity that came with his minutes. In Game 3 Friday in Philadelphia, he sat through an unexpected, embarrassing DNP-CD and his future in the series and beyond looked bleak.
But there was Brewer in Game 5, playing like the Gibson of the wing layers, wrenching the ball out of opponents' hands, contributing eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and six points and generally redeeming himself while there still was a little time.
Backup big man Omer Asik, like Brewer, got the good outing he needed late in a season in which he failed to build on the promise of 2010-11. Asik, who started in Noah's place, scored four points, claimed six rebounds, blocked three shots and altered a few more. It was part of a grittier performance by the Bulls, the sort that should have the Sixers concerned.
"When we've won without Derrick, we've played a hustling game," forward Kyle Korver said. "When we beat the good teams, that 's how we played. High energy, good defense, protecting the rim, making them shoot jumpers."
Luol Deng got some separation from Andre Iguodala.
That applies in two ways: By hitting the court with more energy and assertiveness, Deng was able to free himself from Iguodala's sticky shadow defense. And with four 3-pointers and 10-of-19 shooting overall, the Bulls forward outscored his Philly nemesis 19-11 (they had been tied with 41 total points through the first four games.)
Deng and Sixers coach Doug Collins gave conflicting explanations for Deng's effectiveness. The player said he often is less aggressive when Rose is around and that he was stuck in that gear through the three most recent games. Collins said Deng is more active and effective with Rose in the game, finding seams for his cuts through the lane when defenders are drawn to the MVP. Regardless, the outcome was huge for the Bulls -- three of Deng's 3-pointers came in the fourth quarter, two near the end of shot clocks -- and potentially could carry over given Iguodala's aching Achilles.
Noah might come back.
If Thibodeau and Deng can be stubborn, Noah is one of the Bulls' most driven, willful players. What has happened to his team with the injuries and possible setback vs. a No. 8 seed offends his sense of fair play. The longer the series goes, the more he might be able to do something about it.
The Bulls' "motor" player shed his crutches Sunday. Noah had shed the walking boot by Tuesday's Game 5. He rode a stationary bike during the morning shootaround, then hoisted some flat-footed free throws afterward. Thibodeau's subterfuge about Noah being a "game-time decision" didn't fool anyone -- even the Bulls coach couldn't suppress a grin at one point in the lame misdirection attempt -- but that might gain some credibility by Thursday. Or by Saturday, if this lasts that long.
The Sixers might treat Game 6 like a Game 7.
Stocked with young players, the Philadelphia roster is making its playoff bones on the fly. Pressure shifts to the team that will be playing its final home game of the series and, given the Sixers' 35.2 percent shooting (82 of 233) the past three games, those rims at Wells Fargo won't be looking any bigger. The 26 points they scored in the first half Tuesday was the fewest in franchise playoff history, including pre-shot clock days.
They are going to run out of ankles at any moment.
Philadelphia, being healthier, is swifter. And stronger. And deeper. Closing games was the Bulls' real problem in their two losses in Philadelphia. That was a Sixers issue as well during the season, but they ran the Bulls from 14 points back in Game 3 and held them down in Game 4. They sputtered along in Game 5 but never fully went belly-up. This is a peskier Sixers bunch than the regular-season version.
Rip Hamilton looks lost and is sitting a lot.
Meanwhile, Sixers guard Jrue Holiday has been having a breakout series, in spite of his 5-for-18 shooting performance Tuesday. The Bulls like having Hamilton around -- he was on the Detroit team in 2003 that fought out of a 3-1 deficit against Orlando in the first round -- but they need him for more than a talisman or an old head. He's averaging 11.8 points in just under 27 minutes, while shooting 40 percent. One problem: A lack of timing with backup point guard C.J. Watson, who consistently delivers the ball a beat too late to the cutting, curling Hamilton. Holiday deserves credit, too, for sticking with the Bulls' thin man through screens and along his crazy routes.
The fast break isn't broken.
The Sixers only scored 10 points off the break in each of the previous two games, but they raced back for 23 Tuesday. This, even as the Bulls defense was committed to thwarting that, considering how deadly it can be to them. Philadelphia's shooters have been a collective adventure in their halfcourt offense but their percentage on the layups and dunks that come in transition will beat anybody, any night.
The FTA disparity is no fluke.
The Sixers have earned their whopping 134-90 edge in free-throw attempts, good for a 45-point edge from the line in the five games. They have been more active, quicker and focused, and the referees have rewarded it. Thibodeau declined to answer a question about that disparity after Game 5 but talking about it isn't going to help the Bulls at this point. Philadelphia is getting more free ones and making more (75.4 percent to Chicago's 62.2).
There's pressure on the Bulls, too.
It is on, obviously, because Chicago still has no margin for defeat. It remains at risk of becoming only the fifth No. 1 seed to get ousted by a No. 8 since the format began in 1984. Only eight teams have clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven since the current 16-team format began in 1984. And it's possible the Bulls merely wanted to avoid elimination on their home court, avoid a sendoff into summer with a four-game losing streak the way they did a year ago against Miami. It could well be that the Bulls exhale now, since so little is expected of them and, until Tuesday, they seemed to be right on board with that.
If none of the above goes in Philadelphia's favor? Well, there's always the song.
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