PHILADELPHIA -- There was no loud music playing, no celebrating by the players.
But there was clearly a higher level of confidence in the Philadelphia 76ers’ locker room.
After all, the No. 8-seeded Sixers took a 2-1 series lead over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the most improbable of ways -- by rallying from 14 points down in the fourth quarter for a 79-74 win in Game 3 on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
This young Sixers team, which hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2003, suddenly holds an advantage over the favored Bulls. To be fair, the Bulls entered the game without MVP candidate Derrick Rose. Then Joakim Noah left in the third quarter with a sprained ankle and eventually hobbled down the corridor on crutches for some postgame X-rays.
Still, it doesn’t take away from the gritty effort by the Sixers, who dropped 12 of their final 18 games at home.
This time, they were able to eke out a five-point victory, setting up a huge Game 4 on Sunday at noon CT.
Are the Sixers cocky? No.
“Even when we fell behind by 14, we felt like we had a chance if we could just get something going on offense,” said Sixers forward Elton Brand, who was surprisingly scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting in 26 minutes. “We stayed with it and stayed with it. When we cut it to three, I said, ‘We’ve got this. Let’s go.’ I liked the look in the players’ eyes. It was a huge win. It’s far from over, but it gives us a lot of confidence, which will hopefully carry over to Game 4.”
There was a point late in the regular season when it seemed as if the Sixers might not even earn a playoff berth. They had dropped seven of nine overall and were facing a five-game road trip to close out the season. But they won four straight and secured a coveted playoff berth.
As the Bulls have continued to suffer through injuries, the Sixers have surged ahead.
And they plan to keep it going Sunday.
“It was a tough uphill climb, but we never lost the belief in one another,” said guard Lou Williams, who scored 14 points off the bench. “I think we’re a very confident group. Even when we lost the first game, I think we stuck together. They’ve gotten banged up and we’ve kind of taken advantage. We’re in the driver’s seat but it’s not over at all. We are confident. I think coming back the way we did has to give you a boost of confidence.”
For this come-from-behind win to mean anything, though, the Sixers realize they must seize Game 4.
Otherwise the momentum goes right back to the Bulls.
“We stuck with it and kept grinding, even when things weren’t clicking,” said point guard Jrue Holiday, who had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. “It was all heart on our part. To come back and get a W has to give us confidence. We need to capitalize on it and take [it] to Sunday. We have to protect our home court and put all the pressure on them.”