The Chicago Bulls lost their heart when Derrick Rose ruined his knee in Game 1.
The Bulls lost their soul when Joakim Noah turned his ankle in Game 3.
Sunday, the 76ers stepped on their necks.
As an emerging franchise, the Sixers took a giant step forward. Their 89-82 win gave them a 3-1 first-round lead over the top seed in the Eastern Conference and put them one win away from joining the short list of eighth-seeded teams that have won a series against a No. 1 seed.
Anything but a win would have created a different image; one having to do with the Sixers’ throats, and their inability to breathe and swallow.
Turns out, a choking situation was averted.
“Absolutely accurate. Absolutely accurate,” said veteran Elton Brand. “If we lost today, it would affect our mentality. Our organization. Our franchise. Our talent level. Just all we’re doing here.
“We still have to fight to win this series. But this game, at home, to really take the driver’s seat — we had to have this. For the growth of the young guys.”
One of the young guys, center Spencer Hawes, put his foot down first, with eight rebounds and 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the first half. The former University of Washington center finished with 22, including a shocking 3-pointer at the end of the half and a key lay-in with two minutes to play. It nicely complemented his 21 points in the Sixers’ Game 3 win.
Another young guy, Jrue Holiday, replaced Hawes’ boot with his own in the second half. He shook off a 1-for-13 nightmare and drained six of his next nine, including the two 3-pointers that put the Sixers up by seven with just over 31/2 minutes to play. He had 20, and he leads the Sixers with 19.8 points per game.
Carlos Boozer had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls. Taj Gibson chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds.
At Knicks 89, Heat 87: Carmelo Anthony scored 41 points, Amare Stoudemire had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his return from a cut hand, and New York snapped an NBA-record, 13-game playoff losing streak, beating Miami in Game 4 of their first-round series.
Anthony made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds to play as the Knicks overcame another serious injury to win a playoff game for the first time since April 29, 2001. Baron Davis dislocated his right kneecap in the third quarter, just as the Knicks were making the run that got them back into the game after a dismal first half.
LeBron James scored 27 for the Heat and Dwyane Wade had 22 points but missed a 3-point attempt with 1.6 seconds remaining.
At Celtics 101, Hawks 79: Paul Pierce scored 24 points in 18 minutes and Boston opened a 37-point third-quarter lead before coasting to a victory over Atlanta to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Two nights after his triple-double helped turn back the Hawks in overtime in Game 3, Rajon Rondo had 20 points and 16 assists as the Celtics got some much-needed rest for their aging and injured roster.
Josh Smith returned after missing Friday’s game and had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta. Al Horford, who played for the first time in almost four months, scored 12 points.
Lakers 92, at Nuggets 88: Kobe Bryant scored 22 points, Andrew Bynum added 19 and Los Angeles’ stars got plenty of help from their supporting cast in a win over Denver for a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series
Reserve Jordan Hill was big for L.A., posting a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Steve Blake scored 10 points, including a key 3-pointer in the final minute.
The game was briefly interrupted when a 20-year-old female fan walked out on the court in the second quarter.
When told by security personnel to go back to her seat she responded by asking, “Where’s Kenyon?” an apparent reference to former Nuggets player Kenyon Martin.
San Antonio at Utah, 5 p.m., TNT (Spurs lead series 3-0)
Memphis at L.A. Clippers, 7:30 p.m. TNT (Clippers lead series 2-1)