CHICAGO - At least the Eagles didn't lose.

Did they?

Late Tuesday night, the Sixers completed a worrisome sweep at the hands of Philadelphia opposition.

The wretched Devils terminated the Flyers in the interminable Stanley Cup playoffs, a series the young Flyers entered as heavy favorites.

The hated Mets overtook the Phillies for the second time in as many games, late-inning losses that amplify the woes of the town's best team, now 14-17, locked in last place and assured of a second straight series loss to a division opponent.

And, those plucky, lucky Sixers gave away Game 5 to an undermanned Bulls club, 77-69.

Gave it away, to be sure; eight turnovers in the first 24 minutes, a full 48 minutes' worth of giveaways over the first four games of the series. They finished with 14 turnovers.

The Sixers lost, with Bulls reigning league MVP Derrick Rose watched from a luxury box, his knee shredded from a Game 1 mishap.

The Sixers lost, with Bulls spiritual leader Joakim Noah watched from the sideline in street clothes, his honey-bunned hair and his king-sized beaded necklace lending him a shaman's air.

Without their best player and without their hardest player, the Bulls did not win. The Sixers lost.

"It's not like they played a great game," Sixers coach Doug Collins said of the Bulls. He meant no offense; he was just being honest.

Neither team played great. Or even particularly well.

The Sixers just got beat up, and they lost.

"The further you go in the playoffs, the more physical it gets," Collins said. "I have to reread the memo on freedom of movement . . . Because there wasn't any."

The Sixers can't move, can't get open, and this is worrisome.


Because 3-1 leads go away. It has happened eight other times.

They evaporate quickly when things like this happen:

* When you average 16 points per quarter for the first 36 minutes.

* When Carlos Boozer finds the offensive game that made him an All-Star twice in Utah.

* When Sixers starting guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner combine to make only five of 18 shaky shots through the first three quarters.

* When second-round rookie center Lavoy Allen is the only player in wearing Sixers red who looks as if he isn't overwhelmed by the moment.

And it was a very big moment.

The Sixers stood a game from winning a playoff series for the first time in 9 years. That included four first-round failures.

The Sixers still stand a win from advancing to the second round for the first time post-Iverson. But their stance is a little shakier now.

Sixers coach Doug Collins insisted Sunday and Monday and Tuesday that the Sixers' wins in Game 3 and Game 4 were lucky wins; his words.

Wins fabricated in the fourth quarter by a team that repeatedly lost focus against an inferior opponent (not his words).

They weren't so lucky Tuesday night.

Boozer dropped 19 on them, suddenly a halfcourt hammer.

Luol Deng added 24, many by design, some by dint of desperation against the Sixers' best defender, Andre Iguodala, who had muffled Deng to that point.

The Bulls found themselves. Their new selves.

Their Bully selves. Can the Sixers toughen up?

Should they?

"You can't play out of character," Collins said. "We can't run out there and play smash-mouth basketball."

No, they can't.

That's what should scare the Sixers.

The Bulls went 18-9 this season in Rose's frequent, injury-induced absences. They still had Noah, and Boozer, and usually Deng, and X-factor forward Taj Gibson.

"Taj Gibson . . . His impact on the game is terrific," Collins said.

"Taj played great tonight," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. He gave a similar nod to Boozer and Deng.

They lacked Noah Tuesday night. Boozer, Deng and Gibson played great.

There is no reason to think they won't continue to play great when the series recommences Thursday night in Phiadelphia.

Even if that trio doesn't, lethal scorer Rip Hamilton still hasn't quite found himself. Hamilton played on the 2003 Detroit team that overcame a 3-1 first-round series deficit to the Magic.

Sixers assistant Michael Curry, a teammate of Hamilton's that season, addressed the Sixers squad after the team won Sunday. He stressed how much it would take to finish off the Bulls, even without their two potent starters.

Tuesday night, he must have felt like Charlie Manuel stressing small ball.

Or Peter Laviolette stressing backchecking.

Or Andy Reid stressing . . . well, Reid's not stressing anything. Right now, that is.

Anyone who cares about the Sixers should be stressing.


They have shot 35.2 percent in the past three games.

They have no viable option in their halfcourt offense except Spencer Hawes, and the Bulls, the smartest team in basketball, erased him Tuesday night. Hawes followed 21- and 22-point games with 11. Just as the Bulls planned it.

Not enough? OK. Chew on this.

Noah shot free throws at shootaround Tuesday.

He probably won't play Thursday . . . but there's no telling, if there is a Game 7 on Saturday in Chicago.

The Sixers won Game 3 because Noah got hurt. Even if Noah is his frenetic self, 10 or 12 minutes of effort, of execution, of inspiration, inside a devastatingly manic United Center could be plenty.

It might be more than enough, if the Sixers remain toothless.

If they remain overwhelmed.

Like the Flyers.

And the Phillies.