Bulls forward Carlos Boozer went 1-for-11 from the field and had three points. | Matt Slocum~AP
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:26AM
PHILADELPHIA — The Bulls were out of it. Then they were in it. Then they were . . . well, tied up at 63.
And before you knew it, the end of the game was nigh, coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout, called a play, and Bulls center Omer Asik took a sweet assist from guard C.J. Watson and jammed home a monster two-handed basket-swayer.
The Bulls led the 76ers 78-75 with only 25.9 seconds left.
That had to be the game- winner, right? And the Bulls would advance to Game 7 back in Chicago, right?
And it’s a pity it was Asik’s two missed free throws with seven seconds left that gave the 76ers the chance, and the right, to win the game. Which they did, 79-78.
Thus, this odd Bulls season rolled away.
The Bulls were once a fine — maybe great — team, weeks ago, maybe months ago. And this last group of players gave its all.
But a team can only take so much attrition before it falls apart. Even the toughest tree can take only so many branches sawed off before its roots go weak and it collapses.
Without the injured Derrick Rose, without the injured Joakim Noah, essentially without Carlos Boozer (whose 1-for-11 brick-laying could have earned him a stone mason’s card), without sharpshooter Kyle Korver (whose 5:19 of play produced no stat other than a turnover) and with a stitched-up Luol Deng (elbowed in the face in the first quarter causing him to stagger to the locker room), the Bulls were not really the Bulls.
We don’t even know who this team is after 72 games.
We don’t know when Rose will be back from knee surgery. We don’t know how he’ll be back.
We don’t know what will happen to aging Rip Hamilton with another summer under his belt.
Remember how exciting it was going to be with Rose breaking down defenses and dishing to Hamilton?
We almost never got to see it.
Again, it’s a pity Asik, the 7-foot Turkish big man, missed those free throws because he was terrific.
Afterward, 76ers coach Doug Collins said, ‘‘Those guys are so big. The Bulls, with him and [Taj] Gibson and Boozer, man.’’
Without Noah, Asik played 39 minutes, the most he has played in his career. He had 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots, and he held 76ers center Spencer Hawes to eight points. In general, he clogged the middle like a boulder, drove the 76ers outward and proved he’s as valuable to the Bulls as he wants to be.
Philly’s 6-9, 255-pound Elton Brand tried to foul Asik with a near-flagrant grab. Instead, Brand fell hard to the floor, and Asik, unbowed, lurched onward.
So that was good to see.
But the rest?
What do we say about Boozer, for instance? He had 13 rebounds, but 1-for-11 shooting? That can’t be. Not with everything on the line.
The Bulls are all about defense. But somebody has to score.
As Collins noted, the 76ers won three games shooting under 40 percent, two with less than 80 points.
Watson? Very nice backup point guard.
Ronnie Brewer and Gibson, solid backups.
Deng, a keeper. Little John Lucas III? A good-luck charm.
But something on the Bulls has to change, if only their luck with physical breakdowns.
But how do you control that?
‘‘Sometimes that’s the way it goes,’’ Thibodeau said about the game’s suspect refereeing, but he could have meant a lot of things.
A team once so sure is now up for grabs.