CHICAGO - After the 76ers got done their morning shootaround Tuesday at the United Center in preparation for Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls, head coach Doug Collins and associate head coach Michael Curry walked out onto Madison Street to make the 4-mile trek back to their hotel, shunning the team bus for some exercise.
The two were barely 100 yards from the arena when a van with a couple of older gentleman slowed, honked the horn and shouted, "We still love you, Doug."
Collins hasn't coached in the city for 23 years after a 3-year run. In his final season of 1988-89 he helped advance the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals. It was the last time he won a playoff series.
He's still waiting to win another as the Sixers failed to eliminate the Bulls in Game 5 Tuesday, unable to overcome a horrific offensive first half and fell, 77-69. The Sixers still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 set for Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
So what will it mean to Collins if the Sixers make it out of this series?
"Not a lot," he said, deflecting the spotlight from himself. "That's the one thing I've tried to do with our guys. We have a young group and I want to manage the extremes, the highs and the lows. I thought we were good in Games 3 and 4. We won the games but I don't think we were on any parade or joyride. We found a way to grind a couple of games out that we knew how much we had to do. We've gone through some tough spells so I try to be there for them and try to get them to fight through it. For me, I don't really focus so much what it is for me. I'm too old for that now."
Collins was probably feeling much older than his 60 years when he took his team to the locker room at halftime. To that point the Sixers had made just 12 of their 42 shots (28.6 percent), turned the ball over eight times and had been outscored 18-8 in the paint. All that led to the reason they were trailing by 35-26 at the break.
"It's frustrating that we couldn't make shots," said Andre Iguodala. "We got some open looks, I got some open looks. They weren't going in. I feel really positive about Thursday. I can't wait to play again."
The Sixers' starting backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner had combined to make just two of their 13 shots and turned the ball over a combined five times.
"I give the Bulls all the credit. They came out and they were incredibly physical." Collins said. "I thought our turnovers hurt us to start the game. We started too fast. Second quarter was disastrous for us offensively."
While the two teams somehow found little offensive skills in the third quarter, a 22-22 tie, more bad luck seemed to hit Chicago when forward Taj Gibson rolled his right ankle midway through the quarter while getting tied up under the basket with Lavoy Allen. Gibson limped straight to the locker room and the life seemed to get sucked out of the sellout crowd for a bit. Gibson, however, returned with 7 minutes, 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter while the Bulls were holding a 12-point lead. He promptly hit a 5-footer 2 minutes later that helped breathe new life into the fans and the top-seeded Bulls.
Luol Deng, quiet for most of the series, exploded for 24 points and Carlos Boozer added 19 and 13 rebounds. Holiday had 16 points to lead the Sixers, while Lou Williams added 13. Spencer Hawes and Iguodala each scored 11 and Hawes grabbed 13 rebounds.
"This Bulls team had the best record in the East and I know that they're beat up," Collins said. "There's no question about that with no Derrick Rose [torn ACL] and no Joakim Noah [sprained ankle]. Luol [Deng] fell on his wrist the other day and it's all banged up. When you can defend the way they can, you can win. That's my concern, are we going to be able to score the ball. I think we're going to be OK defensively. We've got our hands full, there's no question about that. These people want to see a Game 7."
That became closer to happening Tuesday as the Sixers could never find a rhythm. After winning two down-and-dirty games in Philadelphia during Games 3 and 4, Chicago was the lesser of the ugly teams Tuesday, stalling the Sixers' bid to win a playoff series for the first time since 2003.
"We have to go home and be more efficient offensively," said Collins. "One of the reasons they can win with all their injuries is because their defense gives them a chance."
While Gibson was hobbled for the latter part of the game, he again negated the play of Thaddeus Young, who finished the night without a point, missing on all three of his field-goal attempts in a little more than 14 minutes of play. Gibson finished with a modest eight points and six rebounds, but his presence takes away a big part of the Sixers in Young.
"I think the matchup is a tough matchup," said Young. "Guarding anybody at the four spot is tough with my size, my height and my weight. Anybody is going to be a tough matchup. I just go out there and keep battling. I try to front him in the post, not let him get a lot of touches and take him out of his game a little bit. I have to play him over the top so they'll try to throw it over me. I think sometimes in transition he'll get down low and he'll get under me and it's tough."
Tough is just what this series has now become for the Sixers.
"I don't want to come to Game 7," said Collins. "The big thing is we're not a physical team. Thad has the size of a small forward. Early in the game our most efficient player was Lavoy [Allen]. You can't play out of character, though. We can't play smash-mouth ball. We need to just stay with what we're doing. You can't let one game get you spinning in one direction.
"We didn't expect to beat the Bulls four-straight. They're a very good team. I didn't see any give-in by our guys. I feel good about that."