BULLS GORE HAWKS, THE HEAT IS ON
By Homer D. Sayson
14 May 2011
UP 3-2 in their Eastern Conference semifinals, the Chicago Bulls invaded Philips Arena Thursday night expecting bitter resistance from the pesky 5th-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
It was a false alarm.
Game 6 was over as soon as it began. The Bulls, the East's No.1 seed, jumped to an early 15-8 lead, stretched the gap to 45-35 at halftime, before pulling away 83-59 midway through the fourth quarter.
In a rapid blur, the Bulls eliminated the Hawks, 4-2, to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls haven't been this deep in the postseason since 1998 when Michael Jordan and company won the last of their six NBA championships in the 90s.
The Bulls now face the vaunted Miami Heat, who sent the Celtics home the night before. The winner of this best-of-7 series, which begins Sunday night at Chicago's United Center, secures a slot in the 2011 NBA Finals.
"It's going to be a great match-up," said Bulls skipper Derrick Rose of his team's upcoming tango with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat. "We're fine with being considered the underdogs," he added.
UNLIKE the Heat, who celebrated wildly, perhaps excessively, after their conquest over the Celtics, the Bulls enjoyed their milestone with just the requisite high-fives, loose hugs and wide open smiles.
Watching Rose at the Bulls bench, you'd never guess the MVP had just won by far the biggest game of his young career. He looked more relieved than ecstatic, like a man who just passed his cholesterol test.
But that's what makes Rose so achingy likeable.
He is fast.
He is quick.
He is skilled.
He is unselfish.
And he has this humility that is so endearing.
Rose only had 19 points Thursday night. He shot just 14 field goals, making eight. And he doled out 12 assists, grabbed four rebounds in 38 minutes on the floor.
And while the above stats, particularly the scoring, appears so pedestrian, it didn't mean Rose took the night off. D-Rose didn't need to be super in a game where four other Bulls scored in double figures and their defense was lights out dominant.
Carlos Boozer dished his best postseason performance yet with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Luol Deng had 13 and five rebounds, Joakim Noah chipped in 11 while Taj Gibson sparked the bench for 10.
THE BULLS had an amazing 34 assists on 41 field goals. Atlanta, meanwhile, had only 14 assists. The rebounds battle was a push, 35-35..
Joe Johnson led Atlanta with 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Josh Smith did better percentage-wise, 7-of-15 shots for 18 points, But the rest of the Hawks couldn't find their target, making only 27 of 74 field goals and 1 of 10 3-point shots.
"They just wear on you. They just keep coming, keep coming every game. It seemed like their starters were fresh," said Atlanta center Al Horford, who was harassed by the Bulls defense, scoring a meek seven points after he missed 8 of 10 shots.
As Rose pointed out, the Heat are favored with Wade and James leading the charge. But if the Bulls can play with the same unselfishness, firepower and defensive tenacity they showed Thursday night, this could be one hack of an East Finals. (HDS)
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