CHICAGO - Only three players on the 76ers' roster have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. The team is filled with young players whose playoff experience is mostly of the ousted-quick variety or not making it all.
Elton Brand, Tony Battie and Sam Young have reached the second round in their careers and each knows how tough the close-out game of a series can be.
"Close-out games are notoriously tough, but I'd rather be in the position to be up 3-1 and have an opportunity to close things out," Brand said. "But it's never easy. The younger guys are just young. They don't even realize what they're getting into. It's a fun spirit around here. There's not a lot of pressure on the guys, they're just having fun playing basketball. Now the veteran guys, we're a little more nervous. We have to tell the young guys to calm down."
They all will have to wait until Thursday for another chance to advance after Tuesday night's 77-69 loss to the Bulls, who now trail the series, 3-2.
Game 5 difficult
With his team ahead 3-1 in the series and a chance to have his No. 8 seed oust the top-seeded Bulls, coach Doug Collins knew full well the pressure and the obstacles that his team faced.
"When I was broadcasting, I used to call this a human nature game," Collins said. "The team that's up 3-1, if you get down, do you have that fight to get back in the game and do the things you have to do to win games like we've won in this series, or do you settle into that human nature of if we don't get it tonight we still have a couple more? These games are the kind of games where teams really have to settle in."
The Sixers struggled in the second quarter and the Bulls went on a 9-2 run over the final 5 minutes to take a nine-point halftime advantage.
"I didn't see any give-in by our guys," Collins said after the loss. "I feel good about that. Our guys are resilient. Teams are struggling to get into the 80s. That's playoff basketball."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau remained coy before Tuesday night's game. Asked if injured center Joakim Noah would miss a second game with a sprained left ankle, Thibodeau replied, "Game-time."
Less than 3 minutes before Thibodeau spoke, Noah had hobbled into the Bulls' locker room, just 90 minutes before tipoff. He looked sad. He did not play.
Instead, Omar Asik started his second straight game in Noah's place. Noah did shoot free throws at the morning shootaround, removing the walking boot he has been wearing to do so. His status for Game 6 remains up in the air.
Things got worse for the Bulls when Taj Gibson turned an ankle toward the end of the third quarter and went to the locker room. He eventually returned.
Stiff upper lip
In the wake of NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledging that the rash of injuries around the league could be the result of the compressed, 66-game schedule imposed after the lockout, Tom Thibodeau declined to wallow in self-pity:
"Injuries are part of the game whether it's a lockout season or not," he said.
Thibodeau's team was devastated when reigning MVP Derrick Rose blew out a knee in Game 1 after struggling with injuries all season - as did teammate Richard Hamilton. Noah then sprained his ankle in Game 3, a fluke accident.
"We've done all the numbers," Stern told Jim Rome on CBS Sports Network on Tuesday. "We think there are actually about the same number of injuries. When Derrick Rose went down with his ACL everyone said it's the compressed schedule. Usually you have five of those a year, this year we had two before the playoffs and now we have two in the playoffs, so now we have four.
"The one thing I do know, we've had more lost games because of injuries because the compressed schedule takes away a day of rest for a minor injury," he said. "And therefore the player is kept out by his coach for what is a game that would have been an off day before."
The back problems of Magic center Dwight Howard, Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire and Celtics guard Ray Allen, among other chronic injuries to prominent players, have been blamed, at least in part, on the strenuous schedule over the shortened season.
"All their injuries were unfortunate, but it is an advantage for us," Sixers guard Jrue Holiday said.