PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As the final horn sounds on every home victory, the Philadelphia 76ers blast confetti all over the court and in the stands as a gratuitous gesture of celebration.
The Sixers' first-year ownership group entered this season overloaded with gimmicks meant to make the game more enjoyable for a fan base accustomed to a decade of rooting for a franchise stuck closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings than the top. Slashed ticket prices, over-the-top pregame introductions, and videos tinged with nostalgia from the glory days only go so far for providing memorable moments for the fans in the seats.
Teams have to win to keep a city interested.
The 76ers are one Game 6 victory against the Chicago Bulls away from the franchise's biggest win in nine years.
Allen Iverson left. And came back. And left again. Larry Brown won an NBA title in Detroit then trekked to New York and now, improbably, back to college at SMU. Billy King bet the future on Samuel Dalembert, Kyle Korver and Willie Green. Former No. 1 overall picks Joe Smith, Glenn Robinson and Chris Webber all made pit stops in Philadelphia. The Sixers won with Jim O'Brien on the bench and suffered with Eddie Jordan. Ed Snider sold the team.
All of it happened (and so much more they'd like to forget) since the Sixers last won a playoff series in 2003.
Beat the top-seeded Bulls on Thursday night and the Sixers will truly have a milestone worth celebrating.
The Sixers might even shoot that confetti budget right out the door.
"This is what we fought all season for," forward Elton Brand said Wednesday. "To be on our home court, in front of our fans with a closeout game."
The Sixers are trying to become the fifth No. 8 seed to win a first-round series against a No. 1 seed. Memphis eliminated San Antonio last season, Golden State (2007), New York (1999) and Denver (1994) also pulled off the rare feat.
The Bulls have no interest in joining the wrong side of history. It only seems like the Sixers have pulled pins out of their spell kits and poked the voodoo dolls of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Rose, the defending NBA MVP, tore the ACL in his left knee late in the Bulls' Game 1 win, Noah missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, and Gibson left Game 5 clutching his right ankle, though he vowed to play Thursday.
Clearly, the Sixers have the injuries to credit for their 3-2 series lead.
They certainly can't celebrate their shooting. The Sixers haven't cracked 90 points in any of their last three games and were held to 69 in the Game 5 loss. The desperate Bulls held the Sixers to season lows for points and shooting (32.1 percent), in fact. The Sixers shot 39 percent from the floor in a Game 4 victory, 34 percent in a Game 3 win, and 40 percent in a Game 2 win. Those percentages are only going to beat a team like the Bulls ravaged by injury.
"The Bulls aren't one of the top defensive teams for no reason," Brand said. "They have some good defensive principles. We're getting shots that we're orchestrating through the offense."
Getting them, yes. Making them, not so much.
Sixers coach Doug Collins gave his team the option Wednesday of watching game film of the first half of their brutal Game 5 loss. The Sixers agreed to the viewing in hopes of finding the flaws that led to their disastrous effort.
The slow pace of the game prevented the Sixers from getting the transition baskets they love. The Bulls locked down and stripped the Sixers of what they do best. Collins said the Sixers played too much "random offense." Meaning, the Sixers were forced out of position and stuck playing 1-on-1 ball.
That's not how they win games. The proof was in the video.
"We tried to make it as positive as possible because tape can be very, very negative," Collins said. "Especially coming off a game like that, I want our guys to be incredibly positive about what we have to do. I don't want them to have negative feelings at all. But I wanted them to see how they could be better."
The Bulls liked that pace and believe, no matter how dire the series looks, they can win Game 6 and take their chances at home.
"You know how we feel. We feel like we let two get away in Philadelphia," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We thought that we played well enough to win, but we just came up a little short."
Gibson has vowed he'll be in the lineup for Game 6. Noah is still listed as day to day. The Bulls reached the conference finals a year ago and believed after Game 5 they still had at least another round in them left this postseason.
"This is all for nothing if we don't come out with the same intensity and urgency on the road," Chicago's Ronnie Brewer said. "We know they're going to play just as hard as they've been playing this whole entire series. We've got to match that intensity."