First Chicago center Joakim Noah went down midway through the third quarter Friday night after gruesomely twisting his left ankle. And the Bulls lead grew as he was in the locker room getting treatment.
Then forward Carlos Boozer picked up his fourth foul a few minutes later. And the Bulls lead grew even bigger while he was saddled to the bench.
As much as the third quarter in Game 2 brought optimism to the 76ers for their best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls, Friday's third seemed to zap all that momentum.
But the Sixers somehow refueled, certainly took advantage of Noah having to leave the game in the middle of the third and were strangely able to find a way to pull out a 79-74 win and take an advantage of two games to one in the series.
The Sixers evened the series in Chicago on Tuesday with a terrific third quarter in which they outscored the Bulls by 22 points and carried that to a 109-92 win. Friday all that went well then was simply nowhere to be found. Not until the fourth quarter, when the fastbreak again came alive, rebounding issues were resolved late and shots started to fall.
Spencer Hawes led the Sixers with 21 points while Jrue Holiday had 17 and Lou Williams added 14. Evan Turner chipped in 16.
Elton Brand, so dependable at hitting mid-range jumpers in Game 2, didn't make one Friday. Jrue Holiday, who pumped in a game-high 26 points on Tuesday, was straddled with foul trouble and missed much of the first half. The rebounding battle, which the Sixers won in their Chicago win and the key part of the series according to coach Doug Collins, was thoroughly won by the Bulls Friday by a 49-43 margin.
For the most part the game was a rock-em sock-em affair, only the Sixers could only attempt jabs. While the Bulls pounded their way to the basket, the Sixers settled on missing jumper after jumper. And when Chicago decided to launch from long-range, the misses were usually corralled by them as they pulled down 14 offensive rebounds.
"I think they have weapons," said Andre Iguodala. "If they're all on the same page they're tough to stop. When those bigs are setting those screens for their perimeter players, all their perimeter players I feel like are threats, whether it's [Luol] Deng or [Kyle] Korver. And C.J. Watson has been playing well all year. If they get it going it opens it up for their big men. They do a very good job of complimenting each other. For us we just have to try and take them out."
That task was accomplished Friday and now the Sixers have a 2-1 lead in the series, which will continue on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.
"We've played the Bulls pretty well over two years," said Collins. "The first time we played the Bulls two years ago they beat us by 47 points, right before Christmas. The next time we played them we beat them at home and then we went in and beat them at Chicago when we had just come off a loss to Sacramento at home after we had just beaten Sacramento by 25. I thought it was a high character game for our guys to be able to win on the road there."
That win may have gone a long way into helping Friday's improbable comeback.