PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, May 11 – The Philadelphia 76ers edged Chicago 79-78 on Thursday, ousting the top-seeded Bulls from the first round of the NBA playoffs and booking a clash with the Boston Celtics.
Andre Iguodala drained two free throws with 2.2 seconds to play as the 76ers advanced with a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series.
In the second round, the 76ers will face the Celtics, who held on for an 83-80 victory over Atlanta in Boston that gave them a 4-2 series triumph.
Atlanta had rallied with a 14-2 scoring run in the fourth quarter and led 79-78 in the final minute, but they were unable to score on three straight possessions.
Kevin Garnett’s basket followed by Ray Allen’s free throw with 9.3 seconds left gave Boston an 81-79 lead.
Atlanta’s Joe Johnson then lost the ball on a drive but it was judged to have gone out of bounds off Boston. Atlanta in-bounded to Al Horford, who drove to the basket and was fouled but missed the first of two free-throw attempts before making the second.
Pierce grabbed the ball and was quickly fouled. He made two free throws, and the Hawks were unable to get off a desperation attempt at the buzzer.
In Philadelphia, a determined Bulls team rallied from a 12-point deficit to seize a late lead.
But Chicago’s Omer Asik missed two free throws with seven seconds remaining and then fouled Iguodala on a drive to the basket.
Iguodala, a 62 percent free-throw shooter in the regular season, made both of his to secure the victory.
Chicago’s C.J. Watson heaved a desperation shot from halfcourt that bounced off the back rim as time expired.
“What this means to me and the organization and our team is just off the charts,” said 76ers coach Doug Collins. “I don’t know how we won. We just found a way.”
Iguodala played a key role. He scored a game-high 20 points and added seven assists.
Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams scored 14 apiece for the 76ers, who became the fifth eighth-seeded team to defeat a top seed.
“This is incredibly hard to digest right now,” said Chicago’s Carlos Boozer, who missed 10 of 11 shots. “We feel like we should still be playing.”
Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton scored 19 points apiece and Deng grabbed 17 rebounds for the Bulls, who lost NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose to a torn knee ligament in the first game of the series.
The Bulls suffered another injury setback when center Joakim Noah sprained an ankle in game three.
Noah tested his ankle before Thursday’s game, but although he was in uniform he didn’t play.
“It felt like everything that wasn’t supposed to happen happened,” said Britain’s Deng, who had his own injury battle this season after tearing a ligament in his hand in January.
On Thursday, Deng needed stitches to close a cut on his face after he was inadvertently elbowed by Iguodala during the game.
Throughout the series, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that he wouldn’t blame injuries for dousing Chicago’s title hopes.
But he gave a hint of how tough the going had been when he praised his players for their perseverance.
“I’ve seen this team’s commitment all year,” Thibodeau said. “I’m disappointed in the loss. But I’m not disappointed in our team. We battled all season.”