10:20 PM CDT, May 12, 2011
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably will hammer his team for allowing 73 points. Heck, he’d hammer his players for allowing two.
But quick, someone tell the coach his Bulls played as brilliant a game as you could ask for in ending Atlanta’s season in Game 6 and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were running the table on their second three-peat.
You couldn’t get much more unselfish offense. In shooting a terrific 53 percent, they recorded an astounding 34 assists on their 41 baskets. The ball almost never stopped, even when the Hawks tried to trap Derrick Rose. The Bulls made the extra pass. They put on a clinic on balance.
And look who led them in scoring: Carlos Boozer. The gimpy, underachieving, seemingly $80 million albatross poured in 23. He also yanked down 10 rebounds to lead the Bulls in that category, as well. Inside, outside, wherever, Boozer hit eight of his first 10 shots. This was the guy the Bulls had been waiting on.
Rose scored 19, but the impressive part was the way he ran the offense. Rose picked up 12 assists, half of them on Boozer baskets, running the pick-and-roll like Stockton to Malone. But the plays came from everyone and everywhere. Luol Deng had 13 points and 5 assists. Joakim Noah added 11. With Boozer’s lights-out shooting, the Bulls’ front court had 22 of their first 29 points.
Off the bench, Taj Gibson scored 10, Omer Asik contributed five, and even Kyle Korver got seven. It was that kind of night.
But it was the defense that killed the Hawks. It was the defense that made Atlanta quit. It was the defense that always decides it.
The Bulls were as smothering on defense as they were unselfish on offense. The Bulls allowed the Hawks only 14 baskets in the first half and just 13 in the second, holding Atlanta to 37 percent shooting and a pitiful 1 for 11 from three. The Bulls also forced 12 turnovers and blocked six shots.
Led by Deng and Keith Bogans, the job the Bulls did on Atlanta’s most explosive scorers was impressive. Joe Johnson missed 11 of 18 shots, Josh Smith missed 8 of 15, and Jamal Crawford missed 8 of 10.
And don’t forget the tag team of Noah and Asik holding Hawks center Al Horford to a measly seven points on a pathetic 2-of-10 shooting.
Under the circumstances -- a game Rose called the biggest of their lives -- the Bulls were perfect all over the court.
A perfect segue to Miami.
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