TORONTO - It wasnít supposed to end this way for the Chicago Bulls.
Easily one of the best teams all season, the Bulls are out in the first round because the injury bug decided to take a bite out of them at exactly the worst time.
And even then, the Bulls came within a whisker of forcing a Game 7 on its home court without a contribution from either of its two best players, Derrick Rose or Joakim Noah.
Rose went out in Game 1. Noah went down in Game 4.
And only a brain fart by C.J. Watson, who went for the cushion points rather than dribble out the clock, kept the Bulls from stealing Game 6.
The Bulls had a one point lead and the ball in Watsonís hands. Watson, a much better free throw shooter than Omer Asik, strangely decided to push the ball into Asik, who was surrounded in the paint. Asik was mugged and then missed both free throw.
With seven seconds remaining, Andre Iguodala (the should-have-been Toronto Raptor) grabbed the rebound and went basket to basket, where he got hacked and sent to the stripe with the game on the line.
Asked after the game what he was on his mind as he went to the line, Iguodala, who has struggled at the line all year, said he followed the advice of Tony Battie.
The veteran Sixers centre told Iguodala to just think about something he loved.
ďSo I just thought of my son and it was easy after that,Ē said Iguodala, who calmly drained both for the close-out win, ending the Bulls season.
Watching the Bulls reserves step up and assume starting roles was nothing short of impressive. Asik looked like he had been started all season. Watson, despite the brain cramp at the end, did a solid job of stepping into Roseís shoes.
The fact that this team was as productive as it was without Rose and Noah is further proof of what a master motivator Tom Thibodeau is.
Thibodeau is a no-nonsense guy who demands defensive superiority from whatever five players he sends out.
With the Bulls the drop off from starters to reserves was minimal and that speaks a lot to the buy-in he got from everyone on his team.
The carrot in the Eastern Conference playoffs from a fanís standpoint was supposed to be a repeat of the Miami-Chicago final a year ago.
Only this time, with everyone being healthy, it was going to be Rose with a secondary scorer in Rip Hamilton that would give the Heat all they could handle.
It would have been a great series. Injuries denied all of us that.
GOOD OLD CELTICS
They said they were too old, but the Celtics donít seem to be listening.
Even with Paul Pierce playing through a sprained MCL in his left knee and youngster Avery Bradley playing through a strained left rotator cuff, the Celtics found a way to eliminate the Atlanta Hawks.
Kevin Garnett got Boston the go-ahead points with a turnaround jumper in the paint to put the Celts up by one over Atlanta Thursday night.
Pierce, showing no signs of that injured knee, stayed right with Joe Johnson on his way to the hoop for the tying bucket with time winding down and slapped it into the stands.
With three seconds remaining the Hawks had one more chance. Al Horford, playing just his second game after missing the past 55 before his return in Game 5,
was fouled and missed the first. Pierce then sealed the deal with a couple of freebies at the other end earning the Celtics a date with the 76ers in an Eastern Conference semi-final.
IT COULD BE WORSE
Out in La-La land, they were breathing a sigh of relief around the dinner table.
Word arrived 5 p.m. local time that the injury to the already surgically repaired left knee of Blake Griffin was a sprain. No structural damage.
Thatís a relief, but by no means are the Clippers and their faithful out of the woods yet.
Yes, they retain a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven conference quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies, but in addition to a gimpy Griffin, the Clippers have to deal with an uncertain Chris Paul.
And the latter could have a much more dramatic impact on the remainder of this series than however the dunker Griffin is affected by his own injury.
Paulís injury is listed as a strained right hip flexor and while that didnít look near as problematic as Griffinís injury, anything that slows down Paul hurts the Clippers immensely.
Both are listed as game time decisions, which means both will play. The question is at what level.
The Memphis crowd that chanted ďSee you SundayĒ may just gets its wish.
Andrew Bynum might want to find the tape of Elton Brand being asked about close-out games prior to Game 6 of the Bulls-Sixers series. Thatís how you answer the close-out question, Andrew and not provide your opponent any cheap motivation ... Kobe Bryant coming down with the flu right before Game 6 can only mean one thing. Heís got Michael Jordan on the brain ... Iguodala was stellar in the Sixers win over Chicago. Every time the Sixers needed a big basket, it was Iguodala either making it or setting it up. Winning the game at the free throw line was simply the icing on the cake. Iguodala finished the night with 20 points and seven assists but as much as his stats, it was his leadership that stood out above everything else ... Hamilton spent most of the season trying to get healthy. But when the Bulls needed him most, he was there. The veteran shooting guard may be a little long in the tooth, but he proved in Game 6 that he can still be a very effective secondary scorer. When Rose does get healthy, itís going to interesting to see what these two can do together for a full year.