The United Center was all abuzz Tuesday night as the weary Bulls fought to remain among the living.
It shouldn’t have been easy to watch for anyone, but when the Fan-O-Meter starts encouraging the crowd, Omer Asik dunks and the 76ers can’t hit an open shot on a rim lowered to 5 feet, people have a hard time helping themselves. They cheer. Wildly.
Others are still trying to decide between denial and anger in the Derrick Rose grieving process.
It’s why watching the Bulls beat the 76ers 77-69 brought on shrugs among those of us who like their basketball to be, you know, good. Yes, there will be a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday and, yes, the 76ers might be feeling just a tad nervous with their 3-2 series lead.
But is it asking too much for there to be one high-level basketball game in this playoff series, with two teams showing skill and will?
If you can get high off the fumes of any kind of Bulls victory, even one as offensive as Tuesday’s, bless you. You’re a better person than I am. You see hope. I see a team that still has fight, doesn’t have much to fight for and might want to think about taking up pacifism.
‘‘Nobody wants to get eliminated at home,” forward Taj Gibson said of the Bulls’ resolve.
They played very good defense Tuesday night, and the 76ers were dreadful on offense. That pretty much summed up the evening. There’s no solution to this, and I’m probably among the minority that wants the memory of the game erased. But being excited about this victory is like giving two thumbs-up to a movie just because you’re happy to see your favorite actor bring ‘‘F Troop” to the big screen.
The last time the level of basketball slipped to this level was during the Tim Floyd era. OK, that’s not fair. The absence of Rose warps everything, even memory. The only reason the Bulls had us in that frame of mind was because Rose and Joakim Noah were out with injuries. That and the fact the halftime score was a miserable 35-26.
For the game, the 76ers shot 32.1 percent from the field and were 2-for-11 on three-pointers. It’s almost impossible to be that bad in the NBA. The Bulls shot 41.5 percent from the field and made just 4 of 11 free throws. They all but strutted to the locker room.
The Bulls looked beat-up, put down and all-around dog tired. So give them points for fighting the good fight. Luol Deng returned to the living with 24 points.
The Bulls started the fourth quarter with Carlos Boozer, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Deng and Asik.
‘‘If you would have said at the beginning of the season that’s the lineup we’d have with the season on the line, you would have thought you were crazy, right?” Kyle Korver said. ‘‘But I was like super proud.”
But, man, has this been super hard to watch. Most of that has to do with the absence of Rose, who was the reason the Bulls had ideas of winning an NBA championship this season. When Rose went down with a torn knee ligament in Gameâ€‰â€‰1, everything changed – lineups, expectations, moods and weather patterns over Chicago.
The idea is to win, whatever the situation and whenever the uniform has ‘‘Chicago” on it. You don’t care about degree of difficulty or aesthetic value. But jeez.
If you’re on a search for meaning, I don’t know where you find it in this series.
Gibson limped to the locker room late in the third quarter, and maybe that’s the meaning of this godforsaken series. The longer the Bulls play, the more the injuries pile up. If they played long enough, they’d probably be down to Brian Scalabrine and maybe Mike James’ left leg. Everything else would be a pile of bleached bones.
The good news: Gibson came back and didn’t seem to reinjure himself the way Noah did in Gameâ€‰â€‰3.
The Bulls weren’t ready to die, and the 76ers weren’t ready to let them. It was a package deal of bad, and the Bulls weren’t complaining. They don’t have to apologize, either, I suppose, but a nice helping of self-awareness/self-consciousness wouldn’t be turned down.
The series moves, reluctantly, to Philadelphia. Somebody needs to put it out of its misery.
Never say die? Please, somebody say it.