When the Sixers fell behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter Friday night, Spencer Hawes had already missed two open layups and a dunk. By the time they had concocted a wild comeback to steal a Game 3 win, Hawes was the hero.
Yes, this was the same Hawes that had been benched in favor of Lavoy Allen in Game 1. The same Hawes that managed just 9.0 points per game after the All-Star break. But on this night, the embattled 7-footer ripped off 21 points and nine rebounds — with 10 of those points coming in the final frame.
“I was missing chippies out there. Coach always tries to calm me down when I get too excited out there,” Hawes said. “It’s a great team win. I think we grew as a unit.”
It certainly helped that Joakim Noah sprained his ankle midway though the third quarter and couldn’t play through it. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance the Sixers would not have mounted their spirited comeback.
“I’ve always felt when Noah plays great, he’s their soul,” Doug Collins said. “And they missed him.”
Noah’s injury left the Bulls with a haggard crunch-time lineup that included Omer Asik at center and John Lucas — subbing for Derrick Rose (torn ACL) at point guard. Before Noah left, he had 10 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes. He’s questionable for Sunday’s Game 4 after leaving the Wells Fargo Center on crutches late Friday night.
Still, the Bulls’ injuries couldn’t dampen the spirits of the Sixers afterward. They shot just 34.2 percent, but still stole a win and took a 2-1 series lead. After the final buzzer sounded, Collins triumphantly turned to the crowd and pumped his fist.
“What an incredible win for our guys,” Collins said. “It just looked like we weren’t going to be able to find a way to score.”
In the fourth quarter, it was the Bulls that couldn’t score. The Sixers held them to just 14 points in that final frame, which keyed the biggest win of the season.