PHILADELPHIA -- Forty-five points.
For 17 days, the Philadelphia 76ers simmered over that embarrassing smackdown loss in Chicago and refused to forget it like it was just another 'L' over a long season. When it was time for payback, they resolved to defend their home court.
"No one wants to lose by 45 and then come home and get your butt kicked on your home court," guard Lou Williams said. "That's been our focus, to go out and give them the same thing."
Hard to believe the Bulls crushed the Sixers 121-76 on Dec. 21 in Chicago.
"When you get beat by a team by 45 and you come back and are able to win that game, it's a hell of a win," coach Doug Collins said.
Jrue Holiday added 19 for the 76ers, who believe they're a playoff team and have the young nucleus to get there.
Meeks and Holiday gave them plenty of reason for hope in a thrilling third quarter where the two guards combined to shoot 7-for-7 for 18 points and make an injured Andre Iguodala feel like prime trade bait.
The Sixers hit their first nine shots in the third and 11 overall to turn a four-point hole into a 12-point lead.
Holiday sizzled, drawing a foul on Derrick Rose on a driving layup for a three-point play that gave the Sixers the lead. Meeks busted out of a big slump with consecutive 3-pointers, the second off Holiday's steal, that built it to 82-70.
The Sixers needed that cushion in the fourth.
The Bulls closed within five late in the quarter, then Holiday threw a blind pass into the hands of Kyle Korver. Rose made two free throws that cut it to 102-99.
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Andres Nocioni, forced out of the first half with a finger injury, grabbed a key defensive rebound and hit two free throws for a 104-99 lead and the Sixers held on for the victory.
"Last game we played against them, it was not the real us," Meeks said.
"You can't panic, that's what's good about the NBA," Rose said. "When you're not playing defense, it's going to haunt you."
After the Bulls, the Sixers start a stretch where they can pad their record against sub.-500 teams. A schedule that has Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee and Charlotte before a Jan. 19 game at Orlando is a prime opportunity for the Sixers to climb back toward .500 and prove they are legitimate playoff contenders.
The Sixers somehow need to fit Iguodala back into the mix when he returns next week. Iguodala missed his sixth straight games with Achilles' tendinitis.
"We're definitely starting to feel each other right now," Holiday said.
The Bulls and Sixers were taking and making shots like a playground pickup game from the opening tip. Williams provided a fitting end to a wild half when he buried a 3 at the buzzer to cut the Bulls' lead to 56-54 at the break.
"I thought we needed that," Williams said.
He was right, as the long shot sparked the Sixers.
Elton Brand, healthy and revitalized after two dismal seasons in Philadelphia, started the can't-miss fun with a 15-footer. They hit pull-up jumpers and finger rolls to slice Chicago's lead.
Holiday electrified a solid crowd with his three-point play on Rose, then hit a 19-footer to make the Sixers 8-for-8 in the quarter and give them a 71-66 lead.
Collins raved about the 20-year-old Holiday in the preseason and predicted he'd be one of the top-five point guards in the league next season.
Too soon to move up that timetable?
Holiday has scored 20-plus in five of the last seven games and has often been Philadelphia's best player on the court. When Meeks is on his game, the two form a potent backcourt.
Meeks -- who began the season with a string of DNP-CDs -- has started the last 18 games and played one of the best games of his career. When Holiday forced a turnover late in the third, he fed the ball to Meeks for a 3 and a nine-point lead.
Meeks capped a 32-point quarter for the Sixers with a little runner for a 12-point lead. The Sixers shot 78 percent (14 for 18 overall; 3 of 4 3s) in the third.
"They weren't only hot in the third quarter, they were hot the whole game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
It was a complete shocker after the lopsided game last month. The Bulls led 61-43 at halftime of that one. When they hit 62 points in the third on Friday, the Bulls only led by four.
"I watched the tape and I didn't recognize our team," Collins said before Friday's game. "I'm hoping tonight is going to be a lot better."
He got his wish.
|Elton Brand boxes out the Bulls' Carlos Boozer on a night when the Sixers shoot 78 percent in the third quarter. (Getty Images)|
|Philadelphia (15-21) «||28||26||32||19||105|
|CHI:C. Boozer 31 Pts
CHI:C. Boozer 13 Reb
CHI:D. Rose 9 Ast
|PHI:J. Meeks 24 Pts
PHI:E. Brand 8 Reb
PHI:J. Holiday 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|L. Deng, SF||36||8-17||6-7||5||0||2||22|
|C. Boozer, PF||35||14-19||3-7||13||2||3||31|
|D. Rose, PG||35||8-21||10-10||4||9||1||27|
|K. Thomas, PF||22||0-2||0-0||5||2||3||0|
|K. Bogans, SG||14||0-1||0-0||0||1||1||0|
|R. Brewer, SG||27||1-3||0-0||2||2||1||2|
|T. Gibson, PF||22||3-5||1-2||5||1||5||7|
|C. Watson, PG||20||2-4||0-0||0||0||0||6|
|K. Korver, SG||16||2-3||0-0||0||2||4||4|
|O. Asik, C||13||0-0||0-0||4||2||2||0|
|B. Scalabrine, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Noah, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Johnson, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|E. Brand, PF||42||5-6||1-4||8||3||3||11|
|J. Meeks, SG||42||8-11||4-5||3||3||2||24|
|J. Holiday, PG||39||8-14||3-3||4||6||5||19|
|S. Hawes, C||27||4-8||0-2||8||4||2||8|
|A. Nocioni, SF||24||3-5||5-6||4||2||0||11|
|L. Williams, SG||26||7-14||4-6||1||3||1||20|
|T. Young, SF||21||4-10||0-0||5||0||3||8|
|E. Turner, SG||15||1-3||0-0||0||0||1||2|
|M. Speights, PF||5||0-0||2-2||1||0||1||2|
|T. Battie, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Songaila, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Kapono, SG||Did Not Play|
|A. Iguodala, SG||Did Not Play|
|C. Brackins, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|