You better hope the Sixers were lying or kidding or clueless.

Because if that was, as they said it had to be, their definition of gearing up for a Game 7, they’re toast in each of the next two. Because, after gaffing in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarters in Chicago with a 77-69 loss to let this thing slip to a terrifyingly tightening three-games-to-two lead, that’s the double-barrel they’re staring down.

“I’ve been around a long time,” said Collins after. “You can’t let one game spin you around in the wrong direction.”

Funny thing, Chicago’s already turned all the Mo’ from Philly’s Games 2-4 on its head. If they parlay that into another in Game 6 Thursday in Wells Fargo, consider the Sixers cooked when it comes back to South Side. No way they win that.

“It’s a close-out game,” said Elton Brand, who finished with just five points and seven boards, making meager amends with his three blocks. “Toughest game to win in the series.”

If this was tough, Game 6 will be overcooked London broil, Game 7 hockey puck hamburger.

And if they play like they did tonight, they’ll be burnt. They won’t win. Not shooting 32.1 percent from the floor or 18.2 percent (2-for-11) on threes. Not with 22 points in the paint, and letting Chicago have 36. Not with Lavoy Allen leading the way through three quarters. (He finished with nine points.) Not with Andre Iguodala trying to, and tanking terribly. (He shot 4-for-19 from the floor, 1-for-6 on 3s, for 11 points.) Not after not getting anything that fueled Philly early on in the series.

Where was the edge? The defiance? The flippancy?

Hell, where was the opportunism?

Talk up the Sixers early series going all you want. But the fact remains that their showing, however fulfilling and lifting and, frankly, something you’d totally take if not only for the team’s nine-year, second-round drought, it all came on a floor less Derrick Rose and, now, Joakim Noah, who couldn’t go despite fooling around at Chicago’s pre-game shootaround like he was going to try. Worse, the Bulls actually (albeit briefly) blotched out another name from the card, Taj Gibson, who tweaked his right ankle during the third quarter. Sure, he came back in the fourth in only mildly, tepidly for-the-sake-of-so-saying-only Willis Reed fashion, gimping and lip-biting and wincing onto the floor with six minutes, 46 seconds left and his Bulls up 12, knocking down a 15-footer that might’ve been less light than heat, but lit up the Sixers spirits.

To that end: You have to wonder where the team’s head is at. Because, delicate as that psyche’s got to be, and had to be throughout, it’s going to be tested by drops like these:

And it was tested Tuesday.

No, Chicago didn’t scribble awesomeness all over the score card. Their 41.5 percent from the floor? Eh. Their 50 percent (5-of-10)? Shrug. Their 11 free throws (and seven misses)? Yawn. The Sixers have posted plenty of lines like those or better throughout the series – even in this game. (They went to the line 24 times for 17 freebies, and matched Chicago’s 11 blocked shots on the other end.)

But the Bulls played the impassioned brand you expected them to, and you needed the Sixers to.

Is that fair? Reasonable? Conducive to getting the best when it matters most? Maybe not.

But that’s playoff basketball, a creature of discomfort that picks you up and shakes you like a bully looking for lunch money.

Tonight? Not only didn’t the Sixers have the coin, they didn’t have the fight.

Luol Deng hooked away in the fourth for three 3s, the latest of which knocked out the Sixers mouth guard in seeming slow-mo, padding Chicago's lead to a cozy 77-65 with one minute, 31 seconds left that they could lay rest on and Sixers supporters could only sigh at.

Gibson swung with two minutes, 25 seconds to go in the half, with the Bulls coddling a 31-26 lead, sprawling out for a loose ball near the Sixers bench and seemingly moonlighting as Terry Tate: Office Linebacker when he trucked a couple of guys sitting down. He and Brand got tied up and double tech’d. And while the team totally handled it right – not like anybody really needed another marring moment like Amare Stoudemire circa 2006 – there was something emblematic about the moment, the juice from which spilled and flowed one way and not the other.

Here’s to hoping the Sixers can get the damn back up for Game 6. Dammit.


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