76ers beat Bulls 79-78 and advance to 2nd round
His teammates joined Iguodala and danced along as confetti fluttered around them.
“Number one, Philadelphia. Here they come, team of the year.”
Team of the first round, for sure.
Eight years of going home empty in April is over. The Sixers at last had a reason to go wild.
Iguodala made the go-ahead free throws with 2.2 seconds left and Philadelphia rallied for a 79-78 victory over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in Game 6 on Thursday night, advancing to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The 76ers will face Boston, which beat Atlanta in six games, in the conference semifinals.
“I don’t know how we won this game,” coach Doug Collins said.
Collins and the Sixers hardly cared the series win comes with an asterisk.
The Bulls lost reigning MVP Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in their Game 1 win. Center Joakim Noah missed the last three games with a sprained left ankle.
“I thought we had more than enough to win with,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m disappointed in the loss but I’m not disappointed in our team.”
Without their stars, the Bulls found it tough to gut one out against the Sixers.
Omer Asik missed two free throws for the Bulls with 7 seconds left that would have given them a three-point lead. Iguodala grabbed the second miss, sprinted the length of the court, and was fouled by Asik on the driving layup.
The Sixers put their season in the hands of one of the worst fourth-quarter free-throw shooters in the NBA.
Collins was hunched over and his hands clasped with Iguodala at the line.
He made both — and 20,362 fans went absolutely wild.
Iguodala made nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter in this series after shooting 45 percent (23 of 51) from the line in the period this season.
Iguodala changed his approach at the line this series. He started thinking what it would be like to teach his son how to shoot free throws.
Dads don’t miss.
“I was like, ‘Son, this is how you shoot free throws,’” Iguodala said.
The Sixers are the fifth No. 8 seed to win a first-round series against a No. 1 seed. Memphis eliminated San Antonio last season, while Golden State (2007), New York (1999) and Denver (1994) also pulled off the rare feat.
In his second season, Collins had already led the Sixers to their first winning season in seven years. Now, it’s on to the second round for the first time since Allen Iverson was an All-Star.
The Sixers were smiling and mobbed each other as they dashed to the locker room to keep the party going.
The Sixers were 2.2 seconds from playing Game 7 in Chicago.
Now, they will pack their bags for the second round. They went 2-1 against the Celtics this season.
Collins had a catch in his voice at the postgame podium and was joined by his 4-year-old grandson, Cooper. Collins rubbed his head and held back tears talking about faith, family and his guys in the locker room.
“I’m a Sixer for life,” he said.
Iguodala scored 20 points, and Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams each scored 14 for the Sixers who were outrebounded 56-33.
Iguodala snagged the one that mattered.
“We win on a rebound. Something we don’t get all night,” a smiling Collins said.
The Sixers started 20-9 and led the Atlantic Division for the first half of the season until a late fade sent them tumbling toward eighth place.
None of that matters now.
Not even the fact the Bulls were down two stars.
The 50-win Bulls are heading home early a year after they reached the conference finals.
“We were on the ropes and we battled,” forward Carlos Boozer said. “In the end, it came down to the very last second. So, it’s tough. We were right there, given everything, right there. It will be a long summer.”
Luol Deng had 19 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls. Richard Hamilton scored 19 points and Boozer grabbed 13 rebounds.
The Bulls had the lock-down defensive effort to nearly pull off the win.
The signature series came in the fourth quarter when the Sixers wasted a forced turnover on the other end with a brutal offensive possession.
Spencer Hawes missed a shot, Thaddeus Young missed two straight in the paint, and Hawes missed again against hands-up defense that sent the bench into a frenzy. Noah was the first one up pumping his fist and screaming encouragement for the fantastic defensive effort.
Hawes fired an airball next time down and there was a collective groan from the crowd.
Iguodala made up for a string of Sixers misses with a tying 3 that made it 70-all.
The Sixers tried to get a laugh by showing the Bulls bench on “Kiss Cam.” Noah popped his warmup jacket toward the camera and the crowd booed the oversized “Chicago” on the big screen.
Noah was one of the top offensive rebounders in the league and the Bulls figured on missing his presence in the middle. Led by Deng and Boozer, the Bulls instead went out and controlled the boards, holding a 49-29 edge early in the fourth.
“We have to use this as motivation to move forward,” Thibodeau said.
Notes: The Sixers scored a measly 26 first-half points in their Game 5 loss. They led Game 6 48-40 at halftime. ... The Sixers started 12 of 20 from the field and finished the half at 50 percent. They shot a season-low 32 percent in Game 5 and failed to shoot better than 40 percent in three other games. ... The Bulls had a 3-pointer taken off the board right before the first half.
Last updated: 8:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012