- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who had sat out the past two games with a sprained ankle, was available to play against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 on Thursday night of their Eastern Conference first-round series but never entered the game.
"I wanted to be out there real bad," he said. "It's just disappointing right now. It hurts. It's only going to make us stronger, though."
The Bulls lost 79-78, ending their season, as Philadelphia won took the series, 4-2.
"We fought hard," Noah said. "It's disappointing because I know how much we put into this. It's just hard. ... The season's over. That's tough, but we just got to fight this summer and understand that the best is yet to come."
Noah said he didn't know how long the recovery time would be for his ankle, which he sprained during Friday's Game 3.
The injury news wasn't all bad for Chicago. Forward Taj Gibson returned and had 14 points. Gibson sprained his ankle in Chicago's Game 5 victory on Tuesday.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took umbrage when a French reporter asked if there were times when a coach had to take the decision out of an injured player's hands.
"None of our players are going to be jeopardized," Thibodeau said prior to Thursday's contest. "They have to be cleared medically by our training staff first. Then once they clear that hurdle then we make a decision whether they play, but we're not taking a chance with any of our players."
Thibodeau remained vague about any specific improvements Noah has made.
"He's done his rehab ... and I don't know," he said. "It's going to be a game-time decision. He's got to go out there with our trainer and he's got to be able to function well. We know his will; he obviously wants to play. Jo's a fierce, fierce competitor. But if he can't move, that's not going to help us. So we have to make sure he's healthy enough, he gets cleared medically, and that he can function well on the floor."
Gibson fell to the ground and clutched his right ankle after a defensive sequence under the basket with 2:06 left in the third quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday. After going back to the locker room, he returned to the court with 6:43 remaining in the fourth and helped the Bulls capture a 77-69 win and avoid elimination.
"The doctors said I can't do any harm to it, just go out there and it's all about how much pain I can take," Gibson said before Thursday night's game. "I'm just going to go out there and lay it on the line."
Gibson, who has blocked four shots in each of the past two games, has averaged 28½ minutes in the two games without Noah.
"He's huge. He's been a big part of our team for a long time," Thibodeau said of Gibson. "He's playing starter's minutes now. He's done both for us -- come off the bench, short minutes, extended minutes, can guard five positions. He's scoring the ball very effectively. He's playing at a very high level."
The Bulls have been battling injuries all series. Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1, followed by the injuries to Noah and Gibson.
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who had sat out the past two games with a sprained ankle, was available to play against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 on Thursday night but never entered the game.