"We were very competitive, but their front line was tremendous," said coach Doug Collins. "Noah was spectacular. He was the difference of the game and then you throw in Boozer and the two of them were [great]. Once again, if you look at the game our defense was good enough to win, we held them to 38 percent and they were 3-14 from three. We had one more field goal and one more three and they beat us by 14 points [26-12] from the foul line. So it's sort of the same old story. But we did play better."
They did, but it wasn't enough against an agitated Chicago group that had lost its previous three games at the United Center. In a game that featured plenty of airballs, Noah and Boozer dominated and helped the Bulls gain a 3-0 season sweep of the Sixers. They were instrumental in Chicago getting a 17-10 advantage in second-chance points and a 38-30 edge in points in the paint. They also seemed to always either keep a ball alive or grab an offensive rebound at key times in the second half.
And when they weren't doing that, Luol Deng, who has tortured the Sixers all season, was his usual pesky self, totaling 12 points and eight rebounds while Kirk Hinrich had 15 points.
Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 22 points, while Spencer Hawes collected 20 points and 15 rebounds. Evan Turner scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter.
A dunk by Hawes off a nice feed from Thaddeus Young with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game cut the Bulls' lead to 75-71, but tiny Nate Robinson hit a midrange jumper and followed that with a fastbreak three-pointer to build the lead up to nine and the Bulls were able to stave off the Sixers.
"He has a unique skill set for someone his size, the way he can handle the ball and make passes and make plays," Hawes said of Noah, who tied a Bulls regulation- game record with his blocks. "His motor, if it's not the best in the league it's up there. It's something to be emulated. You just have to keep it simple. He can speed up the game, not just for whoever is guarding him but for everybody out there. You have to stay along your game plan."
Despite the better effort, it didn't change a result that has become all too familiar for the Sixers. And while radio airwaves have been flooded with talk about Collins' recent comments, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't buying into all the speculation about what the Sixers coach had to say.
"I think there's too much reading into . . . you lose a couple of games in a row, they've lost the team," Thibodeau said. "I've watched Doug's team play a lot. I think he's one of the great coaches in the league. They execute at both ends, they play together, they're unselfish. They took a big hit. Doug, you know how much he's invested into his team. They made a big trade and they gave up a lot and they got a lot. But unfortunately [Andrew] Bynum is injured, so they're not the same team. I look at how much Holiday has developed, Turner, how much he's developed, Thaddeus Young. I think that's a credit to how Doug coaches. He's going to drive them, he's going to push them.
"As coaches we're all human so there's going to be times when you're frustrated after a game. That's all part of it, but then you move on and get ready for the next day and fight the good fight the next day. Doug's been around a long time, so he's been through a lot of different situations. I think he's a great coach."
Despite their coach and their improved effort, the Sixers are now watching their playoff hopes slipping away.
"We have to understand the great part of our success is our energy and effort," said Collins.
"I was pleased with our guys tonight. Second shots, I was worried about and I think they [Chicago] did a good job with that in the first half, I thought we were better in the second half. But once again, just our inability to even keep the free-throw line close."
The Bulls were without regulars Taj Gibson, who is out with an injured left knee, and Richard Hamilton, who missed the game with back spasms . . . Forty-six years ago Thursday, Wilt Chamberlain missed his first field goal in four games, ending a streak of 35 straight makes. Think about that for a minute. Chamberlain shot 68.3 percent from the field that season, the second-highest mark of his career. He shot 72.7 percent in 1972-73.