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The Bulls' Luol deng Taj GibsBrian Scalabrine watch as fourth quarter winds down during Chicago Bulls 109-92 loss Philadelphi76er's game

The Bulls' Luol deng, Taj Gibson and Brian Scalabrine watch as the fourth quarter winds down during the Chicago Bulls 109-92 loss to 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 8:22AM



He limped onto the court with a look on his face that suggested he had just put down his dog after 15 years of friendship. He was there to deliver the game ball, a ceremonial exercise usually reserved for celebrities or sponsors or anybody else in the world other than him. There was no joy in this for Derrick Rose, a hoopster’s hoopster.

But the United Center crowd was having none of his postseasonal depression Tuesday night. The fans had saved their lungs for just this moment. They wanted him to know how they felt about him three days after he and they had heard some of the worst news imaginable for the Bulls.

They missed the man in the street clothes, the man with the newly torn knee ligament, but it was time to move on, with him aboard. This wasn’t a goodbye to Rose. It was a hello to possibility. There was a playoff series to win.

It was difficult to tell if the crowd truly believed in these Rose-less Bulls, if it simply wanted to believe or whether a distinction was necessary.

All of this took place before the game actually began, which very much matters to the tale of woe that would follow. By the time the Bulls were into the fourth quarter, the crowd had gone from excited to stunned to downright angry.

The 76ers beat the Bulls 109-92, beat them up and gave every impression that they were going to beat them to four victories in this best-of-seven playoff series.

“We got our asses kicked, so let’s see what we’re made of,’’ center Joakim Noah said.

And to think Rose had sent them off to battle on such a high note. Here the Bulls were, without their best player. How would they react?

Not well. Not well at all. Their defense was awful, allowing the 76ers to shoot 59 percent. Philadelphia won the boards 38-32. Those will be the two leading factors if coach Tom Thibodeau leaves this earth because of a coronary.

“They outfought us,’’ he said.

The 76ers’ Andre Iguodala had two massive dunks in the third quarter, as did Lou Williams, who stands 6-1. It felt like a defilement of the United Center, which has seen great defense the past two years.

The early roar of unconditional love eventually gave way to grumbling over the Bulls’ stagnant offense. Add it all up — new math, old math, whatever — and you have a good idea why the 76ers had a 24-point lead with less than five minutes left in the game.

When Kyle Korver missed a free throw with the Bulls down 18, the crowd shook its collective head. If the Bulls’ best shooter couldn’t hit a free throw, what was left in life?

The 76ers outscored the Bulls 62-37 in the second half.

The series is tied at 1-1 as it moves to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4. It’s hard to put a value on the loss. Was this simply the natural reaction of a team still despondent over the loss of its superstar? Or was it that everything gets ratcheted up a notch in the playoffs and that the Bulls’ 18-9 record without Rose in the regular season counted for exactly nothing?

Whichever side you fall on, there’s no getting past this: the Bulls are going to need more than the 17 points combined (two in the second half) that Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer provided Tuesday.

Noah was 10-of-11 from the floor with that ugly shot of his, the one people have dubbed the Tornado for the way the ball spins sideways. Can we expect highlights from ESPN and the Weather Channel? He finished with 21 points. That was about it in feel-good story angles.

Rose sat unsmiling in a suite and watched his teammates play. He checked his hand-held device often. That’s how it was. Sad.

Korver’s message of hope on Facebook to Bulls fans Saturday was heartfelt, but in the end, it was just a mash of words. The fans reported for duty ready to believe. The players showed up for about a half.

“We can’t play a 40-minute game,’’ Korver said.

Thibodeau sounded like someone who had just seen a ghost.

“We’ve got to come back with a lot more fight,’’ he said.

Of all the things that could have gone missing Tuesday, fight would have seemed to be the least likely candidate.



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