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Injury-riddled Bulls fall to 76ers, bow out of playoffs

Taj Gibsreacts after Andre Iguodalis fouled final seconds. Iguodalmade both free throws. | Matt Slocum~AP

Taj Gibson reacts after Andre Iguodala is fouled in the final seconds. Iguodala made both free throws. | Matt Slocum~AP

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Updated: May 11, 2012 1:35AM

PHILADELPHIA — Before the game, Doug Collins told his players that eliminating the Bulls in Game 6 would be a most daunting chore. No truer words have never been spoken. Even when it seemed the game and their season was slipping away, they refused to quit. C.J. Watson’s half-court heave at the buzzer bounced off the back rim as the horn blew on their injury-marred season.

The 76ers’ 79-78 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night came after Andre Iguodala stepped to the line and buried two free throws with 2.2 seconds left and the crowd on its feet and barely able to contain itself. When the horn sounded, Sixers players celebrated winning their first playoff series since 2003 as confetti was shot into the air.

Meanwhile, dejected Bulls trudged off the court as only the fifth top seed to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by an eight seed since 1984.

“It just felt like that everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened,” Luol Deng said. “It just felt like that everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened. Going into the season, you never thought that I’m going to have a torn ligament, Derrick [Rose is] going to have an ACL, [Joakim Noah is] going to have his ankle, C.J. with the elbow earlier. Just so many things that you never think about. You can’t prepare for stuff like that, but every time something happened, we kept making up for it. We really made people believe.”

Earlier, with 7.7 seconds left, backup center Omer Asik missed two free throws of his own that would have all but sealed the win for the Bulls.

“The 25 seconds pretty up summed up the last month of our season,” Rip Hamilton said. “We just couldn’t get lucky.”

Asik is the Bulls worst free throw shooter and wouldn’t have been in the game had Noah been able to play with a twisted ankle.

He took a pass from Watson before being fouled hard enough by Spencer Hawes that some Bulls players wanted a flagrant foul called.

Watson is a career 81 percent free-throw shooter while Asik has made only 49 percent. Watson said he thought Asik could finish with a dunk so he passed the ball rather than waiting to be fouled himself. Asik’s two-handed dunk gave the Bulls a three-point lead with 25.8 seconds left.

“I don’t want to put it on C.J.,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There were a lot of things down the stretch we could’ve done better.”

It didn’t appear the game would end so dramatically when the Bulls trailed by 12 in the third quarter, but they did what has become their trademark: They kept playing stifling defense and dominated the boards. They outrebounded the Sixers 56-33 in the game.

Deng had 19 points and 17 boards for the Bulls despite needing two stitches to close a cut under his left eye in the first half. Hamilton also had 19 points. Taj Gibson added 14 points while Carlos Boozer made just 1 of 11 shots to go with 13 rebounds. Asik added 10 points, two blocks and nine rebounds.

“We fought hard,” Noah said. “It’s disappointing because I know how much we put into this. It’s just hard. The season’s over. That’s tough but we’ve just go back to work this summer and understand the best is yet to come.”

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