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John Lucas, Joakim Noah shine, then get erased

Bulls guard John Lucas III passes ball while defended by Sixers guard Evan Turner second half. The Chicago Bulls were

Bulls guard John Lucas III passes the ball while defended by Sixers guard Evan Turner in the second half. The Chicago Bulls were defeated 109-92 by the Philadelphia 76er's in game two of the first round of the NBA playoffs Tuesday May 1, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 3, 2012 8:24AM



Sports are all about ‘‘what if,’’ aren’t they?

So what if the wounded, out-of-sync Bulls can make it past the 76ers? Past, let’s say, the Celtics, then past the dominant Heat and on to ...?

Absurd.

But what if?

Otherwise, we might as well roll up the hardwood right now and simply hold a Derrick Rose seance. (Even though, folks, believe it or not, the point guard is only having knee surgery and not being embalmed.)

Yes, the Bulls miss the 2010-11 MVP of the NBA. The way a scorpion misses its stinger.

And, yes, they missed Rose’s star power Tuesday night as they got crushed by the 76ers 109-92 to even their first-round playoff series at 1-1.

But did you check out my man, John Lucas III, in the last six minutes of the first half? We’re looking for what-ifs here, remember.

The little guy — 5-11, 165 — went nuts, scoring 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting with three assists. ‘‘JL3’’ started the quarter hungry, launching his first three-pointer from 25 feet out (no good) 20 seconds after the Bulls got the ball. Then he fired up another long one (no good), turned the ball over, fouled and sent up a 24-foot misfire. Hang his head? Ha.

Then came the little-dude torrent, and the Bulls walked into the locker room with a 55-47 lead.

Before the game, Lucas had said of Rose’s absence, ‘‘I think we’re gonna stay the same. Derrick missed 27 games, and we stayed the same. Everybody knows their role. Everybody plays a role. We have to do what we’re supposed to do.’’

So what happened?

In the third quarter, the Bulls caved in, scoring only 14 points to Philadelphia’s 36. They looked like a tent without a center pole.

The boos came raining down, and Little Luke returned to earth, doing nothing in his two minutes.

Right then you had to ask yourself how it could be that Lucas would stall and, more to the point, center Joakim Noah, who had been a perfect 7-for-7 from the field with five rebounds and three assists, would have a third-quarter line that showed 15 zeros?

You think 76ers coach Doug Collins didn’t do some coaching at halftime?

One of Collins’ oldest and strongest credos is that you do everything in your power to stop a hot shooter. Right now.

And so Lucas and Noah were erased from the stat sheet until the game was out of hand. Credit Philly guards Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday and center Spencer Hawes for ratcheting up their defense.

That’s how the NBA works, you know, why stars are paid tens of millions of dollars — because they can keep scoring or keep their team rolling, even when opposing teams do everything to shut them down.

Early on, Noah thought he was on an unstoppable mission.

After he hit the first of his three bizarre ‘‘tornado’’ jumpers early, he twirled his six-shooters and dropped them into the imaginary holsters at his waist. Somebody put blanks in his weapons during that third-quarter demolition.

‘‘The way we started the third quarter was unacceptable,’’ he said in a quiet voice, tinged with understatement.

As stated at the beginning, ‘‘what if’’ is the essence of sport. Otherwise, we’d just dump some stats into a computer, declare a winner and let the players stay home.

It’s easy to say the Bulls are a lost team right now. They may well be.

The boos from the United Center crowd every time Turner touched the ball were simply sad responses to the fact Turner doesn’t like Rose, and Rose is gone.

Can’t help that, people.

There was a sign in the stands that said, ‘‘BULLIEVE!’’ and you’d hope it was more than cute.

Bulls forward Taj Gibson said after the game that he didn’t know exactly what blew up in the third.

‘‘It was just tough,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We didn’t make our shots. They made some tough ones, and we didn’t play good defense.’’

And the wilted D-Rose?

‘‘We miss him a lot,’’ he said.

But then Gibson, who had eight points and five rebounds in his 19 minutes, said the critical thing: ‘‘But we can’t worry about it.’’

They can’t, or they’ll get smoked like a bad cigar — fast and smelly.

They must rededicate themselves, play harder and try the new mantra of hope — what if?



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