The 76ers led for most of the game but once again struggled down the stretch allowing the Bulls to steal a win, 96-89, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Jrue Holiday was terrific for the first three quarters but missed a couple of shots and free throws when it mattered most. He finished with a game-high 26 points on 13-28 from the floor and added 9 assists and 5 boards but failed to make a 3-pointer (0-3) and turned the ball over 5 times. Evan Turner played a strong game offensively as well, dropping 16 points and 8 boards. Thad Young scored 13 points and blocked 4 shots while Nick Young and Spencer Hawes each netted 10 off the bench.
For the Bulls it was Joakim Noah leading the way with 21 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, 3 blocks while shooting 7-10 from the field and 7-7 from the foul line. Noah has played like an all-star this season and he was no match for the (inept) 76ers big men. Luol Deng double-doubled with 19 points and 12 rebounds and the starting backcourt of Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson combined to score 30 points filling in for the injured Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich.
The Sixers got off to a great start and jumped out to a 7 point lead midway through the first quarter after hitting 11 of their first 18 shots. Holiday recognized a mismatch right away with Robinson and went to work, getting to the basket at will and knocking down his midrange jumper. The thing I loved about the start of the game was the energy the Sixers came out with. The Bulls bring it defensively every night, making up for a lack of talent offensively without Derrick Rose. I was expecting Chicago to jump out to a quick lead because the Sixers are notoriously slow starters, but it was nice to see the intensity they came out with. Holiday had 16 first half points and the Sixers led 44-41 at halftime.
As great as the Sixers looked in the first half, they looked equally as disappointing in the second. The Bulls led after 3 quarter, lost the lead early in the 4th but regained it on an uncontested Jimmy Butler triple with a little over 4 minutes remaining in the game. That three sparked a 17-9 Bulls run to close the game.
The difference in this game was outside shooting and free throw shooting. The Sixers were terrible from deep, knocking down just 2 of 16 attempts from behind the arc. They also made just 5-11 from the foul line while the Bulls made 24-26. I put the free throw discrepancy mostly on the Sixers’ insistence on shooting jump shots and lack of a real post scorer but something has to change if they hope to win tight games like this one.
I also want to put some blame on Coach Collins, who went with Hawes in the 4th quarter in place of Lavoy Allen. Allen had 6 points and 5 boards at halftime while playing more than adequate defense on Noah. Allen played sparingly in the second half, bringing in just one rebound while Hawes’ ineptitude on the defensive end really hurt the Sixers late. I would have liked to see Allen back in there defending Noah in crunchtime. I’m also frustrated with Collins’ use of rookie Arnett Moultrie. While I’m glad that Moultrie has been playing the past few games, 3-4 minutes midway through the first half is not nearly enough, especially when the big men playing ahead of him make up the worst frontcourt in the NBA. Moultrie hasn’t done much this year due to limited offensive touches and minutes, but he had a nice offensive rebound putback early in the 2nd quarter tonight. Less than a minute later he was back on the bench. I understand Moultrie is raw but he’s a better interior defender with his eyes closed than Hawes is at full strength. The time is now for Collins to increase Moultrie’s role.