By Jordan Kabialis
The Chicago Bulls accomplished something last night that they had not done since the 2006-2007 season; they advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
The Bulls won the first three games of the series in extremely close contests before losing game four in Indianapolis, 89-84. Bulls superstar and MVP candidate, Derrick Rose suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter of game 4 before returning later in the game. An MRI showed no structural damage and despite wearing a walking boot on Monday, Rose said he would play in game 5.
The atmosphere at the United Center was electric as 22,822 fans packed the Madhouse hoping to see for the first time in the series, the Bulls get out to a fast start and put the Pacers away early.
The Bulls came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, jumping out to a quick 10-point lead. Making things even better, Rose showed no signs of having ever sprained his ankle.
Joakim Noah was playing with extra motivation as his grandfather, who had never been to an NBA game, was in attendance last night. Noah certainly brought the intensity last night getting into the paint, drawing fouls, rebounding the ball, blocking shots, and more importantly, getting into the Pacers’ heads.
An extremely physical series, in which the Pacers seemed to get away with murder, it was Indiana, not Chicago that finally snapped in game 5. After a missed 3-point attempt by Rose late in the 3rd quarter, Noah ran into Pacers forward Josh McRoberts. McRoberts proceeded to throw a punch at Noah, which is a flagrant-2 foul and an automatic ejection from the game. Noah was fired up and so was the crowd. Bulls forward Taj Gibson tried to throw gasoline on the fire, visibly laughing at McRoberts as he walked off the court. Noah knocked down the two free throws and the Bulls entered the 4th quarter with an 84-65 lead.
The Bulls refused to let up in the 4th, dropping an additional 32 points on the Pacers. The Bulls bench and Luol Deng led in 4th quarter scoring. Noah was pulled early in the quarter finishing with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, receiving a standing ovation in front of his grandfather.
With 3:31 left in the game, Ronnie Brewer and Rasaul Butler, the only two Bulls to not have a point in the game, were brought in for Gibson and Deng. With just over a minute left, the Bulls flew down the court, finding Brewer for an alley-oop, getting him on the board. Now it was time to get Butler on the stats sheet. The Bulls had the ball on the side with 26.3 seconds left, meaning that they would have to take one more shot. The Bulls found Butler behind the arc who drained the 3-point shot, giving everyone on the team points in the game.
The Bulls finally looked like the team they were all season with the dominant win over Indiana. Carlos Boozer continued to under-perform, getting in foul trouble early again and finished with just 2 points and 5 rebounds. Derrick Rose showed no ill-effects from his ankle injury leading all scorers with 25 points adding in 6 assists and 2 blocked shots, one of which electrified the crowd pinning a Roy Hibbert dunk attempt to the rim. Luol Deng continued to shine with 24 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds.
The bench also added 36 points of their own with big time performances from Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver. Gibson gave Bulls fans something to think about with 10 points and 7 rebounds, looking more effective in one game than Boozer did in the entire series. Korver, better known to Bulls fans as “Hot Sauce” thanks to TV broadcaster Stacey King, added 13 points of his own.
The Bulls will now have a little time to rest after a physical series as they await the winner of the series between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks. The series moves back to Atlanta on Thursday as the Magic fought off elimination last night with a 101-76 win over the Hawks.