NBA Playoffs: 76ers hold on, end Chicago’s season

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Normally, when an 8-seed upsets a 1-seed, like the Golden State Warriors did in 2007 or the Memphis Grizzlies did last year, NBA fans are generally thrilled for an underdog team that beat the odds and prevailed.

This time, however, it’s hard to feel anything but a sense of melancholy for the Chicago Bulls, who did everything right all season long only to see it all go catastrophically awry when Derrick Rose made that ill-fated jump stop in Game 1.

The 76ers deserve a lot of credit for taking care of business and beating the Bulls, particularly in a tightly-contested 79-78 Game 6. Especially since Chicago played well without Rose in the lineup all year. But it’s hard not to put an asterisk on this series when the Bulls were without their best offensive player for the final five games of the series and the leader of their defense for the final two.

With the win the Sixers will face the Celtics in the next round in a series that will begin on Saturday.

The Bulls gave the 76ers everything they could handle in game 6, holding them to just 79 points on sub-40% shooting from the field, but without Rose and Noah they simply couldn’t muster enough offense to bring the series back to Chicago for a Game 7. Carlos Boozer will be a likely scapegoat for the Bulls after this game, as he was only able to score 3 points on 1-11 shooting in a game where the Bulls needed him to provide some offense. Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton were able to provide some offense for the Bulls, but with Boozer melting down and C.J. Watson, Rose’s backup, only managing 6 points on 2-11 shooting, the Bulls simply didn’t have enough scoring to get past the 76ers’ tough defense.

To the Bulls’ credit, they hung tough after falling behind early, and actually had a great chance to win the game late. With a 1-point lead and the ball, Omer Asik went to the line with a chance to put the Bulls up 3 points with 7 seconds remaining. Unfortunately for Chicago, Asik, a 45.6% free throw shooter in the regular season, came up empty at the line, and 5 seconds later Andre Iguodala was able to hit two free throws and end the Bulls’ fantastic season before they had a chance to make a true playoff run.

The big question facing the Bulls coming out of this series is whether they will be willing to stand pat and chalk their disappointing playoff run up to the Rose and Noah injuries or make a big move, one that would likely involve Carlos Boozer. Boozer is a great rebounder and can fill it up in the regular season, but great defenses have given him trouble in the playoffs: he shot 42.2% in this series,  40.7% in last year’s series against the Heat, and 44.6% against the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs. The Bulls have a great young core, unmatched depth, and one of the best coaches in the league, but it may be time to ask if they can win a championship with Carlos Boozer playing a major role against top-level defenses in a 7-game series.

As for the 76ers, they showed why they shouldn’t be overlooked in this series — they play tough defense, they have a lot of depth, and they come to play for the full 48 minutes. They’ll certainly be the underdogs when they play the Celtics or the Hawks, but they shouldn’t be counted out either.

For now, they should celebrate their 1st-round victory, even though most NBA fans are probably feeling more sympathy for the Bulls than excitement for the 76ers right about now.