PHILADELPHIA – First it was point guard Derrick Rose tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Then, as though more proof was needed that this might not be the Bulls’ year, center Joakim Noah rolled his left ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 and later left the arena on crutches while wearing an air cast.
The Bulls have lost the reigning NBA most valuable player and their defensive anchor and might be on the brink of losing the series to the 76ers after a deflating 79-74 loss Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. They trail 2-1 with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday in Philadelphia.
A Bulls team that was outscored 36-14 in the third quarter of Game 2 on Tuesday was outscored 28-14 in the fourth quarter of Game 3, in large part because it failed to play with the effort and intensity that has become its trademark since coach Tom Thibodeau arrived before last season.
The Bulls had vowed to get their ‘‘edge” back in Game 3. They accomplished that for three quarters before collapsing in the fourth.
‘‘Down the stretch, it’s loose balls, hustle plays, and we were outscored 28-14 in the fourth,” Thibodeau said. ‘‘That was the story of the game.”
Evan Turner drew a foul after twice having his shot blocked and made the subsequent free throws to put the 76ers ahead 77-74 with 20.1 seconds left. It was the type of effort play the 76ers made again and again in the fourth quarter. The Bulls had a chance to tie, but Luol Deng’s three-point attempt with 16.9 seconds left was an air ball.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Rip Hamilton added 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists and John Lucas III 12 points.
‘‘Obviously, not having Joakim out there affects us in a big way,” Boozer said. ‘‘He’s a monster out there.”
Noah was injured after grabbing a rebound and starting downcourt with just less than eight minutes left in the third quarter. When no 76ers players picked him up, he continued toward the basket before stepping on Andre Iguodala’s foot, severely turning his ankle and collapsing to floor. Fans at the Wells Fargo Center cheered as Noah held his ankle and writhed in pain.
‘‘It looked pretty bad when it happened,” swingman Kyle Korver said. ‘‘It looked like it was pretty swollen. He came out and battled for us. That’s just who he is.”
Noah walked off the court under his own power and stayed in the game to shoot two free throws. He made both but began limping almost immediately and soon was taken to the locker room for treatment, only to return in the fourth quarter. He started limping badly again and had to be replaced after sinking a 16-foot jumper with 9:35 left.
Thibodeau said Noah’s status for Game 4 won’t be known until Saturday.
‘‘He wanted to give it a shot,” Thibodeau said. ‘‘You could see he couldn’t move. That’s the way it is. We’ve got to get ready for the next one.”
Spencer Hawes had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead the 76ers. Jrue Holiday added 17 points, six assists and six rebounds and Lou Williams 14 points.
The Bulls outrebounded the 76ers 49-43 and shot 37 percent to their 34 percent.