The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls 79-74 to gain a 2-1 series edge over their increasing injured opponent. There was a lot to like about this game, and a lot to loathe.
Let’s get the bad out of the way early. The most vocal of the Philly crowd turned into a collection of Scott Raabs when Joakim Noah suffered a gruesome looking ankle injury mid-way through the third quarter. When leading a fast break, Noah tried side-stepping the defending Andre Iguodala, only to turn his ankle. He was writhing in pain. So what happens next?
The fans cheered.
Now, Noah is an annoying player to deal with. He does the annoying finger guns and flops and complains and does all of the stuff that just irritates you. He’s not especially pleasant to play against. But booing a player who comes down with such an awful-looking injury, no matter the circumstances, is inexcusable. It is pathetic. It is despicable, disgraceful, and everything else. Someone is screaming in pain on the floor, possibly losing part of his livelihood. And you cheer. And you boo when he stands up and visibly limps off the floor. And you boo lustfully when he takes his free throws, despite having seen the gruesome replay and gasping at its gruesomeness. And you boo harder when he returns to the game unnecessarily. I was ashamed that I can even be associated with those people. I’m sure much of the crowd disapproved, but the disgusting, shallow fans will be those that stand out and make the rest look as sad and pathetic as they are.
Anyway, let’s get back to the game. Pretty much the entirety of the game was ugly. Two good defenses against two bad offenses. Bad officiating. Oscillating effort. Lots of old-school Rip Hamilton. Players in foul trouble. The first half was a complete drag. Neither team could really break away. Neither could get what it wanted. Chicago took control in the third, despite injuries. They grabbed nearly every available loose ball and rebound. They didn’t score much still, but they did everything they could to keep the Sixers to 11 points in the quarter.
The Sixers labored unnecessarily early in the fourth. It looked like they were the more talented team, but mental errors and, quite frankly, not trying hard enough kept the game seemingly out of reach. Then, a series of events happened. Spencer Hawes finally started putting everything together, trying on defense and stretching the floor on the other end. He even finished a layup after missing his first 4-5. He put together a strong performance in the last 8 minutes that even I can approve of. He deserved the criticism I gave early, but he more than made up for it. The Bulls also seemingly ran out of energy, between having people outside their normal roles, others in foul trouble, and the stars injured. Did they lose the will to win? I don’t know. But their bad luck and the injuries and the minutes had to weigh on their players.
An injury to Lou Williams then led to an interesting last three minutes. A lot of fans have given credit to Doug Collins for this, but Lou’s spine injury on a no-call with under 4 minutes to go forced Evan Turner back into the game. And he and Jrue Holiday and Hawes led the late charge, with Elton Brand (who looked flat-out old) and Iguodala (who neutralized and got neutralized by Luol Deng) along for their ride. They didn’t execute perfectly. They failed to get great shots. But they gave an effort and got to the line. They played excellent defense on the other end. And they won it, even if they won only because the Bulls were injured and because Carlos Boozer is predictably bad.
While the fans should show some class, the players can’t feel sorry. They can’t show mercy. It’s sports – players have to take advantage. You have to do what it takes to win on the court. And the 76ers did in the end.