PHILADELPHIA (AP) — His coach called Jrue Holiday’s slump “0 for the world.”
Even as the misses piled up, Holiday never felt the weight of it on his 21-year-old shoulders. All he could do in a thorny Game 4 was laugh about his struggles with teammate Evan Turner.
“You’ve got to be happy when you play,” Holiday said. “It really helps.”
Boy, did it help Philadelphia in the final minutes against Chicago. Holiday busted out of a game-long slump with consecutive 3-pointers that stretched a one-point lead into seven and helped the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 89-82 on Sunday and take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
“Don’t fear the consequences,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said.
It’s the top-seeded Bulls who suddenly fear elimination.
Spencer Hawes scored 22 points and Holiday had 20 to put the Sixers one win away from joining the short list of eighth-seeded teams that have won a series against a No. 1 seed.
Andre Iguodala had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, who have won the last three games after losing Game 1.
Game 5 is Tuesday in Chicago.
The short-handed Bulls played without Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (sprained ankle). Rose is out for the season and Noah is day to day for the rest of the series.
In NBA postseason history, the eighth seed has won a first-round series against the No. 1 seed four times, including last season when Memphis eliminated San Antonio. Golden State (2007), New York (1999) and Denver (1994) also pulled off the rare feat.
“I’m not worried about it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m just worried about the next game. We do have more than enough to win with.”
The Sixers won three straight playoff games for the first time since Allen Iverson fueled their run to the 2001 NBA finals.
Holiday was sensational down the stretch after a rocky first 3½ quarters. He missed his first five 3-point attempts until he nailed one to make it 77-73. He hit another the next time down for a seven-point lead to the delight of a roaring sellout crowd.
They were easily his biggest shots on a 7-of-23 night.
He expects to hear the same noise in the next round.
“We have to play like it’s Game 7,” Holiday said. “We want to win in Chicago.”
The undermanned Bulls kept at it and refused to use playing without their two biggest impact players as an excuse. C.J. Watson, who scored 17 points, hit a step-back jumper to make it a two-point game.
In a whistle-happy game, Holiday went to the line with 51 seconds left and made both for an 84-80 lead.
Suddenly — and shockingly — the Sixers are a win away from taking a playoff series for the first time since 2003.
Carlos Boozer had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls. Taj Gibson chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Without a full roster, the Bulls barked at the refs, talked trash on the court and used every self-motivational tactic they knew to gain an edge on the Sixers.
Noah, injured in Game 3, took charge on the bench as head cheerleader. Wearing a protective walking boot, he clapped, cheered and offered instruction in the timeout huddle. Noah was needed more on the court than as a de facto assistant coach.
Boozer actively did his best to keep the Bulls in the game. He played through foul trouble to score 18 points through three quarters (matching his combined total for the first two games) and he fought for some of the tough rebounds Noah would grab.
It wasn’t enough.
The Sixers made 22 of 31 free throws to Chicago’s 11-for-14 effort. The Sixers only averaged 18.2 free-throw attempts this season.
“Bottom line, we’ve got to play better defense without fouling,” Boozer said. “You can’t cry about the referees. It’s the playoffs. If we could hold them to 17, 18 points in the fourth quarter, maybe we win that game.”
Iguodala played through right Achilles’ tendinitis to make so many impact plays for the Sixers. He halted a Bulls run in the third with a 3 for a 57-56 lead. Bad leg and all, he still soared for a thunderous dunk on the break in the first half for an eight-point lead. One of the worst fourth-quarter foul shooters in the NBA, Iguodala even made both with 26.6 seconds left.
“I think the adrenaline carried me through the game,” Iguodala said. “It’s hard to get on your toes, that’s the hardest thing.”
Game 4 lacked the electric atmosphere early that accompanies a postseason game because the Broad Street Run was routed in front of the sports complex. The Wells Fargo Center was barely half full by tip and the announced crowd of 20,142 needed time to warm up.
By the time Holiday hit his 3s, the arena was going wild.
His sharp shooting in clutch time came at the right time after a slow start.
Holiday and Turner continue to befuddle Collins with their inconsistency. The under-25 starting backcourt followed a solid Game 3 with a combined 3 for 22 for eight points in the first half. Lou Williams, perhaps the league’s top reserve, failed to bail them out with a 2-for-10 effort in the game. Their struggles were a key reason the depleted Bulls kept the score tight even without their two stars.
The Sixers crashed the boards early without Noah in the lineup and had 15 second-chance points in the half to grab a 10-point lead.
Hawes hit the go-ahead 20-footer late in the fourth for the Game 3 winner and he continued his hot hand into Sunday. He had made seven of his first eight shots, including a 3-pointer right before the second quarter buzzer to send the Sixers into halftime with 44-42 lead.
Notes: Boxer Bernard Hopkins, former NBA great Dolph Schayes, former Sixers great Julius Erving and actor Bill Murray attended the game. … Philadelphia last won a playoff series when it beat New Orleans in 2003. … The Sixers hold a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series for the first time since the 1984 East semifinals. … 76ers CEO Adam Aron said there was nothing the team could do about the start time.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)