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Eastern Conference First Round | 76ers defeat Bulls 4-2

Game 6 | Bulls drop a close one, fall 4-2 in the series

76ers 79, Bulls 78 | 05.10.2012 (Philadelphia wins series 4-2)

Box score | Discuss the game

Sam Smith: In the end for the Bulls Thursday and for the 2011-12 season, it was a game they weren’t supposed to win that they left shocked they lost.

Sort of the way this whole season went.

The Bulls had lost Derrick Rose, were still without Joakim Noah, had Taj Gibson playing through a sprained ankle, saw Luol Deng leave early in the game for stitches and were facing their second straight playoff elimination game, in Philadelphia this time and trailing by a dozen points midway through the third quarter.

But with a remarkable physical effort that summarized the team in the end, more toughness and dedication than talent, the Bulls with plus-24 in second chance points, plus-33 in rebounds and plus-10 on inside points seemed to have the 76ers out: Three point lead with 38.8 seconds.
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Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Box score
BullsTV recap | Postgame interviews: Tom Thibodeau | Luol Deng Bulls’ season ends with 79-78 loss to 76ers | Bulls look to even up series against 76ers
Bulls’ Noah hopes to return for Game 6

Game 5 | Deng leads the way as Bulls grind out a victory

Bulls 77, 76ers 69 | 05.08.2012 (Philadelphia leads series 3-2)

Sam Smith: So after all that, losing Derrick Rose to that catastrophic knee injury in Game 1, and then losing Joakim Noah to that horrendous sprained ankle in Game 3, and then with Taj Gibson limping to the locker room in Game 5 with his own sprained ankle, after the team filing a missing persons report on Richard Hamilton, after it appeared the Bulls rediscovered Vinny Del Negro’s offense and ordered Luol Deng to stand in the corner in Philadelphia, after Ronnie Brewer was benched in Game 3 after 43 starts this season, after C.J. Watson went six straight quarters without scoring and then again the first half of Game 5, after the Bulls blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead to lose Game 3 in Philadelphia and went down three games to one and only eight teams ever came back from that, and after all that the Bulls are one game away from scaring the cheesesteaks out of the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I don’t want it to come to a Game 7,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said after the Bulls pushed the lid on their playoff coffin open a bit with a grueling 77-69 victory.

The 76ers now lead 3-2, and, yes, Game 6 is in Philadelphia. But if it is a firing squad the Bulls are facing, they have to be thrilled Andre Iguodala (four of 19 Tuesday), Evan Turner (two of seven) and Jrue Holiday (five of 17) are the main shooters.

The 76ers don’t have the kinds of players who cannot spell “horse.” No, they could be in an empty gym trying to make layups and not finish out the famous H-O-R-S-E shooting game. Better C-A-T for them, or N-O. Or, oh no! If they think those rims looked small before, wait until they have to make shots now.

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Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Box score
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Luol Deng | Taj Gibson | Exclusive: Joakim Noah

Postgame interviews: Tom Thibodeau | Luol Deng

Game 4 | Bulls to brink in playoffs with 89-82 loss

76ers 89, Bulls 82 | 05.06.2012 (Philadelphia leads series 3-1)

Sam Smith: And then there was one. Perhaps just one game left in this most remarkable and unusual — if not ultimately fulfilling — Bulls season ever. The Bulls after a 89-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers trail 3-1 in the opening round playoff series.

Cue the NBA music, perhaps a dirge for the Bulls. It is now at win-or-go-home time.

“A couple of shots drop, a couple of calls and it would have been a different game,” Kyle Korver said with a sigh. “We’re not in this for moral victories. We’re trying to win championships. It’s not the way we thought the series would go a week and half ago. It’s a different situation, but that’s the way it goes. The attitude has always been that we’re going to win. We’ve been short on people all year. That’s not an excuse. I thought we’d win this game, go home 2-2. But it didn’t happen.

“We’re down two, but we’re not out,” Korver went on. “Teams have come back from 3-1 before. We’re going to have to play really well, have a lot of guys step up. We’re not going to quit. Everyone is upset, obviously. But by Tuesday night we’ll be back, have a good mindset and be ready to go.”

Reporters continued to linger, there were pauses, a question about Omer Asik starting, Joakim Noah being gone along with Derrick Rose. Finally, there was a long silence as reporters stared at Korver.

Korver shrugged and finally said, “I don’t know, man.”

Nobody really knows what to say. No one’s ever been through anything quite like this, a great, if uneven, season, the league’s best record despite numerous injuries, the regular starters playing in fewer than 10 games together. And then everything finally seemed to be coming together, when everyone was playing. And then everything collapsed with the loss of Rose in Game 1 and Noah in Game 3. Both are gone for the playoffs, though the Bulls hold out hope for Noah’s sprained ankle...

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Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Also: Bulls to brink in playoffs with 89-82 loss in Game 4 | Box score
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Taj Gibson | Kyle Korver
Postgame interviews: Tom Thibodeau | Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson & John Lucas III

Sam Smith at History not on Bulls’ side for long run
Also: Bulls begin to prepare for Game 4 without Noah

Game 3 | 76ers rally past Bulls, take 2-1 series lead

76ers 79, Bulls 74 | 05.04.2012 (Philadelphia leads series 2-1)

Sam Smith: The Bulls’ championship hopes for this season likely ended when Derrick Rose suffered that torn anterior cruciate ligament late in the Bulls' Game 1 playoff victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

But there seemed hope against the 76ers and possibly in the conference semifinals. Though that seems all but gone now with Joakim Noah sustaining a severe ankle sprain late in a 79-74 Bulls loss that left them trailing the 76ers 2-1 in this series.

“Next man up, next man up. That’s the way it is,” said General Patton, err, I mean Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, frankly, saying what he had to say in the wake of the Bulls losing a 14-point fourth quarter lead and the game. “We’ve got more than enough to win with. On the road you have you have to play 48 minutes. Going into the last two minutes, the game is right there to be had. We’ve got to find a way to win. You have to do it for 48 minutes, and to me, that’s playoff basketball. It’s going to be will, fight, determination, discipline, those loose balls right at the end there. You can’t give a team three shots at it (Evan Turner with the play of the game with 1:24 left). You have to give them one shot and you have to finish your defense. You got to run. You got to get easy baskets. I think understanding the importance, how the game is different, in the fourth quarter. We have to respond better. The intensity is different in the fourth quarter.

“The thing is, injuries are a part of the game,” Thibodeau continued. “You have to have a mental toughness to get past all of that. We’ve had injuries all year and you just deal with it. If you look, you can find something every night, every game. Shorthanded, regular season back-to-back, early start, late start, whatever it is, or you can find a way to win. That’s what you need. You need guys who that have great will to win, and no matter what the circumstances are will find a way to win.”

The Bulls didn’t say, though X-rays were reported to be negative on Noah’s ankle. He actually went back into the game for about two minutes in the fourth quarter, hobbling badly.

Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Box score | Postgame video: Tom Thibodeau
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Taj Gibson | Kyle Korver | John Lucas III Are Bulls’ hearts and minds into this Game 3?
Bulls ready to show 76ers something old for Game 3

Game 2 | 76ers even series with 109-92 victory in Chicago

76ers 109, Bulls 92 | 05.01.2012 (Series tied 1-1)

Sam Smith: Now that 109-92 Philadelphia 76ers win over the Bulls to even the first round playoff series at 1-1 is a game in which the Bulls could certainly have used Derrick Rose. Yes, I know, we’ll be thinking that often for a long time to come, and it’s also time to get past that. Reporters in the wake of the Bulls discouraging loss — before which Rose discarded his new crutches and limped to midcourt and waved in an inspiring appearance for the fans and the team to present the honorary game ball — tried in various ways to elicit suggestions from Bulls players of a still emotional hangover from the shocking Game 1 playoff ending loss of Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Most players were having none of it... continue reading.

Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Box score | Photo gallery
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Kyle Korver | John Lucas III
Postgame interviews: Tom Thibodeau | Joakim Noah
Also: Bulls begin their brave new world without Derrick Rose

Scottie Pippen's open letter to the 2011-12 Chicago Bulls

"Just go out there and play hard. Play your best. Leave everything you’ve got on the floor," writes Scottie Pippen in an open letter to the Bulls. "Yes, you lost one of your brothers—a warrior in every sense of the word—but I know and you know you’ve still got a lot of fight left. You’re still the best team in the NBA until an opponent proves otherwise. So go out there and play like it. You’ve earned that much with Derrick along the way, but you also won a lot of games without him. It’s time to meet the challenge."

Game 1 | Rose hurt in Bulls' 103-91 win over 76ers

Bulls 103, 76ers 91 | 04.28.2012 (Chicago leads series 1-0)

Sam Smith: Everything was going so well… and then he was gone. That’s what it felt like in the wake of the Bulls’ 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs when Derrick Rose fell clutching his knee in what was later confirmed to be a season ending torn anterior cruciate ligament. It felt like a death, and perhaps it was the death of a season, though the Bulls won’t look at it that way after being 18-9 in games Rose has missed this season.

“We’ve played a lot of games this year without him. Maybe that was getting us ready for this,” Kyle Korver said in the sober locker room before the severity of the injury was disclosed.

But you felt sick and numb about the injury, especially for Rose and the Bulls and their fans. Someone who was so lively and vibrant and so full of basketball life is suddenly gone, a jump stop, a twist, a leap and a landing, perhaps nothing unusual for the canvass of basketball artistry we’ve come to love and enjoy and perhaps almost take for granted with this beautiful basketball prodigy.

Additional coverage:
Sam Smith postgame analysis | Rose hurt in Bulls’ 103-91 win over 76ers | Box score | Photo gallery
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Luol Deng | Taj Gibson | Kyle Korver
Also: Rose goes down late in the game

Will the Bulls defeat the Philadelphia 76ers?

Sam Smith: The Bulls are supposed to win this playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers. This is not hockey. No. 8 seeds don’t win playoff series in the NBA. Though it did happen last season when the Memphis Grizzlies beat the injured San Antonio Spurs, and in the last lockout season when the New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat. But it’s occurred just four times, and there’s really no reason to think it will between the Bulls and 76ers... continue reading.

>> Sam Smith: How will the first round go around the NBA?
>> Sam Smith: A look at the 2011-12 games between the Bulls and 76ers
>> Sam Smith: Bulls conclude one of best seasons in franchise history

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