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76ers Hold On to Beat Bulls, Close Series to 2-1 : NBA playoffs: Philadelphia nearly squanders 27-point lead, escapes with 118-112 victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only the victory could save the indignity, or, strangely, what remained of the Philadelphia 76ers’ dignity after a 118-112 victory over the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night at the Spectrum.

The game boomeranged on them, coming back with the same force with which it was launched, which is to say plenty. Forget physics. This is about psychology, how the 76ers can cut the series deficit to 2-1 and still have reason to feel bad.

They led by 27 points late in the second quarter, and from this came the most unlikely of all sightings: a game. From 59-32 with 1:51 to play before halftime to 113-110 with 54 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

“Absolutely it’s a concern,” Philadelphia Coach Jim Lynam said. “Believe me, I never said the game was over. But mentally, it doesn’t give us much of a boost going into Game 4 (Sunday in Philadelphia).”

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Can the last quarter take away from the first three?

“To some degree, sure,” he said.

Lynam paused for a moment.

“Absolutely,” he finished.

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Absolutely because the 76ers were outscored, 45-31, in the fourth quarter, one game after blowing a 16-point second-quarter cushion. This time, they held on . . . barely.

The first sign of real trouble came when Michael Jordan zipped a pass to Stacey King, who converted it into a layup, making it a 108-98 game with 4:16 to play. It was 10 points again at 113-103 before the Bulls, who had a three-game winning streak snapped, made their final push.

Jordan, who scored 24 of his 49 points in the fourth quarter, slammed in an alley-oop pass from B.J. Armstrong. Ed Nealy scored from inside. Jordan nailed a three-point shot with Johnny Dawkins’ hand in his face. It was 113-110 with 54 seconds to play.

“I think we played 42 minutes of some of our best basketball of the year and six minutes of bad basketball,” Dawkins said.

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They managed another few seconds of the good and hung on. The Bulls were shut out the rest of the way, and the 76ers made five of their last six free throws. Philadelphia scored 10 points in the final 3:55, six coming at the free-throw line, and still won.

“I think we were just hoping for the game to be over,” said 76er Charles Barkley, who had 34 points but impressed more with his 10 offensive rebounds--20 overall--and unselfish passing early.

“They should have demolished us,” Jordan said. “They had a 27-point lead. It looked terrible (for the Bulls). I know they thought they had the game put away in the first half. But we earned some respect.”

And maybe left the 76ers with unexpected feelings, too.

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“I could sense a little panic,” said Jordan, who has 39, 45 and 49 points in the first three games.

These are uneasy times for the 76ers. They returned home after dropping the first two series games to find Barkley taking heat for un-MVP-like showings, namely berating teammates on the court at Chicago. Blown out of proportion, all involved insist.

Then, John Nash unexpectedly announced his resignation Thursday after nearly four years as general manager. The timing had been planned for after the season but the story was leaked.

And then there was the game that almost got away.

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“I see it as 2-1,” Dawkins said when asked if the victory could be viewed as a comedown. “Now, it’s not 3-0. It might have been a dose of humility at the end or a dose of whatever. But it still is a W.”


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