Chicago Bulls' Taj Gibson, bottom, battles for the rebound with Philadelphia 76ers' Spencer Hawes, top right, and Elton Brand during the fourth quarter of Game 4 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Philadelphia, Sunday, May 6, 2012. The 76ers won 89-82. (AP Photo/The Wilmington News-Journal, Suchat Pederson) NO SALES
Updated: June 8, 2012 8:15AM
PHILADELPHIA — You know how when two teams are so evenly matched that you don’t care about the low quality of the basketball but only about the raging competitiveness?
Yeah, well, this wasn’t like that.
This was bad basketball, and I’m concerned that 20 years from now we’re going to start seeing the physical cost of having watched it, starting with, but not limited to, blindness.
The 76ers “won’’ Game 4 Sunday afternoon, “beating’’ the Bulls 89-82 to take a 3-1 series lead. But is there a “winner’’ in a game in which one team (the Bulls) shoots 40 percent and the other 39.2 percent?
Derrick Rose has spoiled us. That is so obvious now. And after being subjected to three games of this Bulls-76ers series without the league’s reigning most valuable player, the more discerning fan will want it to die a quick death. That could come Tuesday, as long as the Bulls and the heavens cooperate in Game 5. If you believe in the power of prayer, drop to your knees and get busy.
The ideal in sports is to play until the bitter end, but it’s hard to see the value in it right now. This isn’t like accepting a National Invitation Tournament bid to have something, anything to build off of for next season. How do you build off something, anything that doesn’t include Rose or, in Game 4, Joakim Noah?
It doesn’t matter how hard the Bulls play if it looks this bad.
“We’re not in this for moral victories,’’ Kyle Korver said. “We’re trying to win championships.’’
That’s the most painful part of this, the knowledge that with a healthy Rose, the top-seeded Bulls likely were going to be playing the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. That’s where the bar was. It wasn’t set to a height where the Bulls were just hoping to eke out a victory in Philadelphia to tie a series against an underwhelming eighth seed.
There’s an emptiness to this postseason, to the point where you just want it all to go away. That point was officially reached in Game 4.
We watched the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer and the 76ers’ Spencer Hawes trade bad defense all afternoon. Boozer scored 23 points and Hawes 22.
It was like watching who could down the most empty calories.
We watched Boozer get his shot blocked when the Bulls were down two points with 1:03 left. The Bulls thought Boozer was fouled, but perhaps the referees took into consideration the fact that Boozer can’t jump and weren’t going to reward him for one of his faux dunk attempts.
The crew of Dan Crawford, Dick Bavetta and Marc Davis seemed to alternate between bad calls and no calls, but that wasn’t the story, no matter how much coach Tom Thibodeau and his players seemed to want it to be afterward.
“It was one of those games where it was scrappy until the end,’’ Korver said. “If we had a couple of shots drop and a couple of calls, it would’ve been a different game.’’
Days like this are when you miss Rose the most, when you realize just how good he is and when you understand just how little all those regular-season victories without him mean now.
After the loss, Thibodeau was sticking to his playoff mantra of “we have more than enough [talent] to win,’’ but it sounded more hollow than normal. The Bulls missed Noah, who badly sprained his ankle in Game 3. No one who followed this team came into the postseason looking to see Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson on the floor during crunch time.
What’s the benefit of watching Watson shoot 5-for-18 from the field? That’s an existential question right up there with, “Why are we here?’’ I don’t know the answer to either question.
“We were there until the buzzer,’’ said John Lucas III, whose 14:24 of playing time was more evidence of the Bulls’ plight this postseason.
The Bulls say they aren’t giving up. That’s great. Just great.
“One thing about our team, I think we have great character, and I think the fight will be there,” Thibodeau said.
Maybe it would be better to get this over with and start fresh next season with a healthy Rose. This is a nightmare better forgotten. Right now, we’re all in the middle of it.