Collins insisted afterward that his team never "gave in to that game at all," even as the Bulls posted a 77-69 win to extend the series and send it back to Philadelphia Thursday night. Yet there's no use denying the Sixers did not play with the same determination as the Bulls.
To be fair, the Sixers were caught in something of a Catch-22. They had to match the Bulls' intensity, but they couldn't threaten to rile a team emotionally that had its back to the wall facing elimination and was already tender from key injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. When the Bulls' Taj Gibson and Philly's Elton Brand tangled for a loose ball in the second quarter, Collins was quick to play peacemaker and hurry his guys off the court for a timeout, the better to keep the Bulls from catching fire.
It didn't help. As usual—and even without their key players—the Bulls used a ferocious defense to instill a team attitude on offense as well that carried them to a 35-26 halftime advantage (a Sixers playoff record for lowest score at intermission), and they brought it home with Gibson providing the intensity with four blocked shots.
Collins was right about one other thing as well. He said Luol Deng was hurt most by Rose's absence, as the Bulls set few plays for him and he usually feeds naturally off whatever Rose does. As if he had heard his counterpart, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau appeared to design plays for Deng to open both halves, and his teammates looked for him early on as well, and with the hot starts Deng went on to score a game-high 24 points.
I bet for now Collins wishes he weren't such a keen student of human behavior—and basketball tactics.
Collins had the last word, admitting unapologetically that he intends to win the sixth game and avoid a seventh back here at the United Center on Saturday. "I don't want to come to Game Seven," he said.