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Joakim Noah (right) and Jannero Pargo react to the Bulls' win last night.
Joakim Noah (right) and Jannero Pargo react to the Bulls' win last night.
Image: John Bazemore/AP/Press Association Images

While you were sleeping: Bulls finally back in the big time

Catch up with last night’s playoff action in our daily NBA round-up.
May 13th 2011, 11:27 AM 141 0

Result: Chicago beat the Atlanta Hawks by 20 points, 93-73, to wrap up the series.

What it means: The Bulls meet the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference showdown, the franchise’s first final appearance since Michael Jordan left.

How it happened: The Chicago Bulls were turned down by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now, they’ll have a chance to beat ‘em.

With MVP Derrick Rose in more of a supporting role, the Bulls cruised into the Eastern Conference final with a 93-73 rout of the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night, wrapping up the series in six games.

But Rose will surely play a leading part in the next round, when the Bulls take on Miami’s super trio of James, Wade and Chris Bosh. Game 1 is Sunday in Chicago.

“It’s going to be a great matchup,” Rose said. “We’re fine with being considered the underdog.”

The Bulls made a serious bid to sign James and Wade last summer, hoping they’d team with Rose in their own version of the Big Three. Of course, those two wound up in south Florida with Bosh, a group that knows anything less than a championship will be considered a failure.

But, first, they’ll have to get by the Bulls.

Chicago, it turns out, won more games than anyone during the regular season with one star and plenty of guys around him who play their parts to perfection.

That was never more apparent than the series-clinching win against the Hawks.

Carlos Boozer scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out five assists. Luol Deng hit some big baskets early and finished with 13 points, plus five steals. Joakim Noah scored 11 and stifled the Hawks with three blocks. Omer Asik chipped in with two swats of his own. Keith Bogans made only one basket, but it was a big 3-pointer as the Bulls put it away in the third quarter.

And, boy, did everyone play some defense.


“What goes underrated about them is the depth of their team,” said Atlanta’s Al Horford, who had a miserable night and a tough series overall.

They just wear on you. They just kept coming, kept coming every game. It seemed like their starters were fresh.

Rose was hardly invisible, scoring 19 points and dishing out 12 assists. But he took a playoff-low 14 shots and finished with his second-lowest scoring total of the postseason, content to let his teammates carry the load.

“D-Rose gets so much attention,” said Boozer, who had been bothered by a toe injury and come under criticism at home for inconsistent play. “The 15-footer was open for me. I shot it.”

The Bulls haven’t been this far since 1998, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were on their way to a second three-peat. Pippen sat near the Chicago bench, relishing a new generation that’s carried his old team into contention for another championship.

“When we showed up for training camp, we knew we could be special,” Rose said.

We were ready to put in the work and not be concerned with statistics. We just were concerned with winning each night.

Atlanta had hoped to extend this series to a Game 7, feeling the pressure would be squarely on the Bulls if it came down to a winner-take-all. But Chicago squashed those hopes right from the opening tip. The Bulls never trailed, and the lead was 10 by the end of the first quarter.

With the loss, Atlanta extended an infamous playoff mark: The Hawks have never advanced past the second round since moving from St. Louis in 1968.

Chicago led by 17 in the first half. Atlanta made a late surge, the crowd on its feet when Smith pulled off a spectacular dunk on a lob from Johnson — despite getting a shove from Noah as he was soaring toward the hoop.

But a big call went against Smith, costing the Hawks a chance to cut the gap to single figures before halftime. He scored off another fast break, and the referees had to confer before ruling Rose had drawn the offensive foul. Smith grabbed his head in disbelief and pleaded with the officials, to no avail.

Chicago settled for a 45-35 halftime lead and never let the margin below double figures over the final two quarters.

“We’re happy to get to the conference finals,” Rose said, “but we’re not planning to stop right there.”

– Match report by AP

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Niall Kelly

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