There should have been no way the Sixers could stay with the Chicago Bulls when the Bulls were able to deaden the pace of Game 3 of their opening-round playoff series on Friday night.

There should have been no way, particularly, they could come back from a 14-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.

But in a series that has defied prediction, one more impossibility took place in the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers won a game in which their play was pig-ugly most of the night, but just pretty enough in the end. The 79-74 win gives them the series lead and, unless Chicago has another speed it would like to try, gives them a command of things.

It will be hard for the Bulls to recover from their fourth-quarter collapse against a team that looked dead in the water and was being booed by its own fans. They lived by their strategy and, in the end, they were the real victims of it.

The Bulls entered the game intent on slowing the place and forcing their way into the basket area where they should have had a decided advantage on the 76ers. After a second half of watching his team settle for jump shots in its Game 2 loss, it was a solid piece of strategy for coach Tom Thibodeau.

And the Bulls succeeded on several levels. They did turn the game into a half-court struggle. They did work the ball to the inside diligently. What they also did, however, was transform the game into a pretty hideous affair to watch.

As the Bulls forced the ball to the post area, they also made difficult passes in traffic to big men who have trouble handling ordinary passes. That helped lead to 10 first-half turnovers for Chicago, one of the failings that kept the Sixers in the game.

Because it certainly wasn't shooting that kept the Sixers in the game. Limited to their half-court offense for the most part, the Sixers weren't getting the easy layups and dunks that came their way in the freewheeling Game 2.

At one point midway through the second quarter, the Sixers had missed seven straight shots from the field and were 2 of 11 in the period. There were just over six minutes left in the half, they had scored just 26 points . . . and they were still in the game!

Not only were they in the game, but after finally stemming the tide when they fell behind by seven points, they were able to rally to take a one-point, 40-39 halftime lead.

How was that possible? Well, it took some help from Chicago.

The Bulls played along with the game by having their own offense issues. When they got the ball to the rim, they didn't get the bounce. When they settled for jump shots, as their second unit had to do more frequently, those didn't fall. In the second period, Chicago made just 5 of 17 shots.

Adding to their problems, they had to put players like Kyle Korver on the floor, who added nothing to the offense, and couldn't locate a single Sixers player he could defend. When the Sixers scored 14 of the final 20 points of the half to take their slim lead, it was because they were the ones able to get to the basket.

So, while the Bulls were easily winning the rebounding battle, they were being short-circuited because turnovers and poor shooting kept them from taking advantage of the offensive opportunities those produced.

But they decided how the game would be played. They dictated the pace. They made it uglier than a possum's butt. Now they had to live with it and hope the second half got prettier.

It did get a little better for the Bulls, but only because the Sixers came out and put on one of those half-court offense shooting displays that can make your eyes bleed. The Sixers made just 4 of 21 shots in the third period, and, through no fault of their own the Bulls had been able to build a nine-point lead, 60-51.

Worse news for the Sixers was that Chicago built that lead with the second unit doing much of the work and eating a lot of the minutes. The Bulls survived what looked like it could have been a bad ankle sprain for Joaquim Noah when Andre Iguodala tripped Noah on a drive to the basket. The classy crowd cheered the apparent injury, but Noah was able to get up and, eventually, continue.

No, if the Sixers were going to take the lead in the series on Friday night, they would need a hot offense in the final quarter - and a Bulls collapse. Incredibly enough, that is what they got, as the Bulls were as cold in the fourth quarter as the Sixers had been in the third.

The Sixers crept back shot by excruciating shot. It was that kind of night. A slow night when every effort had to be made as if running in deep sand.

It should get a little easier now.