Philadelphia 76ers guard Andre Iguodala tries to pick the ball off of Chicago Bulls' Larry Hughes during the third quarter Friday,
As time ticks down toward the end of the regular season, it's becoming more and more likely there will be no happy ending for the Bulls.
Mostly because the fourth quarter has not been a specialty.
The Bulls held a comfortable lead for most of the night, then were scorched for 40 fourth-quarter points by the Philadelphia 76ers and suffered a 110-106 loss Friday night at the United Center.
This was merely the latest in a long series of agonizing home losses for the Bulls. Two weeks ago, they squandered an 18-point halftime lead against Washington. On Friday, they were ahead 88-70 after Kirk Hinrich scored the first basket of the fourth quarter.
Then everything fell apart. Rodney Carney and Louis Williams, a couple of obscure players who combined to hit 2 of 12 shots from the field in the first three quarters, suddenly couldn't be stopped. The 76ers scored on 18 of their final 21 possessions.
A victory would have moved the Bulls (26-39) into a three-way tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with New Jersey and Atlanta.
"Giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter at home is unacceptable," Bulls coach Jim Boylan said. "We need to address that. We haven't been successful playing with the lead all season. We've given up quite a few leads, and obviously it cost us."
Philadelphia (32-34) is the NBA's worst 3-point shooting team and didn't make any for the first 3½ quarters. Then suddenly they knocked down 4 in a row from behind the arc, 3 by Carney.
In crunch time, the Bulls were called for 3 controversial offensive fouls in the final 3:23. Philadelphia, meanwhile, piled up a 29-6 advantage in free-throw attempts during the second half and went 40-for-44 overall from the foul line.
"All tough calls," Boylan said. "Once it was sliding downhill, it seemed there was no way to stop it. We lost our aggressiveness."
The Bulls seemed to lose focus after Andres Nocioni didn't get a foul call on a drive to the basket, even though the slap could be heard throughout the arena, with 8:26 remaining and the Bulls up by 13.
Nocioni was hit with a technical for arguing the call, and Carney added a jumper on the ensuing possession to bring the Sixers within 10.
In the next few minutes, Carney drilled a 3-pointer after the Bulls couldn't control a near steal. Then Drew Gooden tipped an offensive rebound twice and appeared ready to grab it, but the ball was knocked loose and turned into a Philadelphia fastbreak. Williams converted 2 free throws to make it 94-90 with 5:40 left.
The Sixers took their first lead since 2-0 with 1:58 left on a Carney 3-pointer. After Thabo Sefolosha was called for a charge, Williams twice gave the visitors 3-point leads.
Gooden's baseline drive cut the lead to 107-106 with 51.2 seconds left, and the Bulls finally got a stop on the other end by forcing Williams into a missed jumper.
But the Bulls' chance to take the lead ended with a thud when Larry Hughes was whistled for an offensive foul for pushing off on Williams while the crowd howled in disbelief.
After a pair of Philadelphia free throws, Ben Gordon missed a forced jumper with both feet over the 3-point line.