CHICAGO (AP) — Derrick Rose attacked the rim like a fish going for the bait, driving at will and doing all he could to lead his team to a crucial victory.
Taj Gibson pitched in, too. So did Luol Deng, and now the Chicago Bulls are one win away from the Eastern Conference finals.
The last time they got there? Two guys named Michael and Scottie were wreaking havoc on the rest of the NBA. All they have to do is take out the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the conference semifinals on Thursday.
“We can’t get tired or bored,” Rose said. “We know that going down there, they’re going to give us their all. I think we have to come out and play our way – defense first and make things tough on them. We’re a good team when we have pace to us.”
And the pace was perfect for Chicago, particularly down the stretch on Tuesday.
Rose scored 33 points, Gibson scored all of his 11 in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls beat the Atlanta Hawks 95-83 in Game 5 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead.
Luol Deng added 23 points and Chicago let out a big sigh of relief.
A win Thursday in Atlanta would put the Bulls in the conference finals for the first time since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen wrapped up their second championship three-peat in 1998. They are in this position after dominating Atlanta in the fourth quarter 26-15, with Rose matching Gibson’s 11 points.
Rose showed why he is the league’s youngest MVP, hitting 11 of 24 shots and finishing with nine assists. It was a big improvement over Game 4 when he needed 32 shots to score 34 points, and he was particularly effective down the stretch, attacking the rim.
“He made unbelievable plays. He exploded off the pick and roll,” Atlanta’s Josh Smith said.
Jeff Teague was big again for the Hawks in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich, scoring 21 for the third time in this series, but Atlanta came up short in the end.
Smith contributed 16 points. Joe Johnson scored 15, Zaza Pachulia finished with 13 points and Al Horford added 12 points and 10 rebounds. But Jamal Crawford scored just two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“We were playing for everything,” Horford said. “We have to regroup again and get ready for Thursday.”
It hasn’t been an easy postseason for the Bulls after they stormed to a league-leading 62 wins, with Indiana pushing them in the first round and the Hawks doing the same. Even so, they are poised to advance.
The Bulls led by 15 points in the first quarter but were trailing 70-69 early in the fourth before they went on a 9-0 run.
Rose started it when he drove to his left for a layup, fed Gibson a no-look pass in transition for a three-point play and added a layup that made it 78-70.
Then, midway through the fourth, he drove for a three-point play that made it 85-76, and after Atlanta pulled within six, Chicago scored eight straight to make it 93-79, with six points coming from Gibson.
“Taj is a good player,” Rose said. “I think he really doesn’t know how good he is.”
The fourth quarter aside, it wasn’t an easy night for the Bulls.
That 15-point lead dissolved into a 48-42 halftime advantage, and the Hawks kept coming at them in the third quarter.
Things got particularly tense after a two-handed dunk by Smith cut Chicago’s lead to 61-60 with just over 4 minutes left in the period. He hung on the rim and Carlos Boozer gave him a forearm to the face, leading to a retaliatory shove from Smith and technical fouls for both players.
“I dunked the basketball and I go to turn and he just cleared me with an elbow to the jaw,” Smith said. “Nobody is going to do that to me. I don’t care who you are. I’m a man first.”
Smith gave the Hawks their first lead of the game when he nailed a jumper that made it 64-63 with 1:45 remaining, but Chicago was up 69-68 lead going into the fourth. Then, after a layup by Teague, Rose went off. So did Gibson, and the Bulls prevailed.
“Taj Gibson pretty much changed the game when he came in,” Johnson said. “In that fourth quarter he was real big out there.”
NOTES: The Hawks went big again, with coach Larry Drew sticking with the lineup that helped them win Game 4 – Jason Collins starting at center, Horford at power forward and Smith at small forward, with Marvin Williams in a reserve role. … Keith Bogans, who sprained his right ankle in Game 4, scored 11 for Chicago after being limited to free throws at the morning shootaround. … Boozer finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulls.
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