CHICAGO - "In an NBA season, you are going to have clunkers," said Sixers coach Doug Collins after last night's game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.
As far as clunkers go, this was the clunkiest.
Chicago tore apart a Sixers team that had won eight of 11 going in, scoring at will and waltzing to a 121-76 win, its eighth in nine games.
"That was pretty much an aberration," said Collins after his team fell to 11-17. "I knew the first 3 minutes of the game. We had no juice. They ran the same play six or seven straight times. I think they scored on eight of their first 10 possessions. For whatever reason, we just weren't there."
Neither were two of Chicago's main players, which makes the loss that much worse. Forward/center Joakim Noah - and his 14 points and 11.7 rebounds - is sidelined after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, and forward Taj Gibson sat out after suffering a concussion in a game this past Saturday.
They weren't missed. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer provided an inside-out game that the Sixers couldn't stop. Deng was nearly perfect on his midrange game, making 10 of 14 shots en route to 22 points. Boozer, recently back after missing the first 15 games with an injured hand, ruled the lane, going for 16 points and 11 rebounds, while new starter Kurt Thomas did a wonderful fill-in job, posting 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Sixers were no match for Chicago's inside game, getting outscored in the paint by 52-26. Center Spencer Hawes was held scoreless in 18 minutes and Elton Brand had just six points in his 28.
Add to the Bulls' arsenal point guard Derrick Rose, who has that rare blend of speed and quickness, and it was an unfair matchup. He got to the places he wanted to on the court, whenever he wanted, and finished with 22 points, 12 assists and five rebounds in just 29 minutes.
The Bulls (17-9) made 10 of their first 14 shots in building a 27-13 lead late in the first quarter. That lead grew to as many as 20 when former Sixer Kyle Korver (10 points) drained a three-pointer with 33.7 seconds left in the half for a 61-41 lead.
It got far worse in the second half. The Sixers made just four field goals in the third quarter and didn't score a point for a span of 5 minutes, 29 seconds. The Bulls upped the lead to 51, 118-57, on a driving layup by seldom used, and fan favorite, Brian Scalabrine.
"An old fashioned butt-kicking," is how Brand described the loss. "They did whatever they wanted to. We didn't see this coming. They really took it to us."
The Sixers have been successful of late mainly because of their defense. Last night, they had as much defense as Ebenezer Scrooge had holiday cheer. The Bulls made 64.5 percent of their shots (49-for-76), dealt 32 assists and got a 19-for-27 shooting effort from their bench.
The coach called it an aberration. Andre Iguodala, who led the team with 17 points, didn't see it so much that way.
"We've just been getting by," Iguodala said. "We've been getting some good wins at home but I don't think we've been playing good basketball. Other teams haven't been playing so well against us. When we start winning, teams kind of wake up, they don't sleep on you anymore. They executed much better than we did.
"We've been playing good enough to win against the teams we've been playing and then when we play against the top-notch teams, we get exposed a little bit."
Or a lot, as was the case last night. And it doesn't get easier as they'll face the Celtics tonight in Boston, a team that has won 13 straight.
"It's good for us to be able to get right back out there, to try to put this behind us," said Thaddeus Young, who was the other Sixer in double figures with 12. "Just because we've been winning, it isn't going to be easy to forget this one. We lost by 45 points. That's not easy to forget."
But that is just what the coach wants his team to do.
"I just told them we've worked too hard and I hope that's not what we want to become," Collins said. "I'll give them one night. Sometimes you see it around the holidays a lot. Boozer was great, Derrick Rose and Luol. Their bench at one point was 16 of 19 from the floor. This is really about where they want to go from here. This is not indicative of the way we've been playing. I expect our guys to bounce back."
Sixers guards Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner and Lou Williams combined to make nine of 35 shots from the floor . . . Craig Brackins and Jason Kapono were deactivated.
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