The popular caveat for all the Philadelphia 76ers' success this season has been a dearth of wins against "quality opponents." Doug Collins's deep, entertaining crew has slain tons of putties, but faced few monsters so far. On Wednesday night, they made a giant step toward validating themselves by taking down the East's best team, the Chicago Bulls, in stirring fashion, 98-82.
The two teams traded baskets in the early going. Andre Iguodala paced Philadelphia on one end while Derrick Rose led the charge and found open looks for Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, who stepped up in place of the injured Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng. Philly's bench -- dubbed the "Night Shift" -- then entered the game and helped them foster a bit of a lead heading into the second quarter. Lavoy Allen, of all people, seized some big minutes and got loose from pretty much every range, while Evan Turner put the clamps on Korver and handled the ball quite a bit on offense. Lou Williams's shooting and a one-man run by Thaddeus Young served to maintain the lead through halftime.
Then the day shift returned and pretty much ended the game. Iguodala absolutely lost his mind, torching the Bulls with fast break dunks, pull-up threes, and one swashbuckling assist to Holiday ("Gotta go to Facebook and like his status!" commented Malik Rose, almost single-handedly ruining Iguodala's moment). The Philadelphia defense operated at its absolute rowdiest and cornered the Bulls into turnovers and ill-fated jumpers all quarter long, harassing Chicago into just 11 points in the period and launching the Sixers to 20-point lead heading into the fourth.
Tom Thibodeau elected to let the Chicago bench play out the game (with a visit to New York less than 24 hours in the future, rest was at a premium) and actually got a spurt from them. C.J. Watson and Taj Gibson piloted the Bulls back to within 12, but Philadelphia sank the necessary free throws and finished under pressure to stifle any comeback.
And there you have it. After slugging out a win against the Magic on Monday and just squashing these Bulls, the Sixers face Miami on Friday to round out what could be the week that crystallizes their legitimacy in the East.
The Bulls, meanwhile are well rested and recuperating for a Thursday night match-up with the Knicks.