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Wednesday, July 17

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Bulls Wed Apr 27 2011

Bulls Hit Their Stride to Dispatch Pacers

Now that looked more like a proper No. 1 seed.

After three games under 40 percent, the Bulls shot a series-high 48 percent Tuesday, eliminating the pesky Pacers with a 116-89 home win in Game 5 of their best-of-seven first-round series.

bulls pacers vertical.PNGBehind 49 combined points from Luol Deng and Derrick Rose, Chicago took off from the opening tip and never looked back. Fears about the health of Rose's ankle were clearly unfounded, as the point guard displayed his usual athleticism, one of several factors that sent the Pacers packing.

The win gave the Bulls their first playoff series victory since 2007, and sets them up for an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against either No. 4 seed Orlando or No. 5 seed Atlanta. The Magic crushed the Hawks in their own Game 5 on Tuesday, pulling within 3-2 in the series.

One of the biggest reasons the Bulls took off was their 14-of-31 shooting (45 percent) from behind the 3-point arc. Keith Bogans in particular found his range, going 5-for-7, while Deng hit 3 of 5 and Rose 3 of 8 -- all three of them coming late in the third quarter after the visitors had pulled within four.

Neither team had any advantage on the glass, as both grabbed 38 rebounds, and one reason for that is the lack of play by Carlos Boozer. The big man played only 16 minutes for Chicago, as he quickly got into foul trouble and was limited for the remainder of the game. His stat line of four rebounds, one assist and two points is a dreadful one, but they got away with it with Joakim Noah and Deng's contributions in the paint.

Noah in particular showed he's not nervous about getting physical, racking up four blocks, a steal, eight rebounds and five personal fouls in 32 minutes -- perhaps spurred on by a rare visit from his paternal grandfather. He even goaded Josh McRoberts into a late scuffle that got McRoberts kicked out of the game for throwing an elbow.

The chasm between Deng and Boozer was really quite glaring. Sure, they play different roles for this team, but Deng this year has really come into his own. That $51 million they're paying him through 2013-14 isn't looking so bad anymore, especially compared to the five-year, $75 million deal Boozer signed last summer.

Deng had 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block. Should the Bulls continue to advance deep into the playoffs, count me among those expecting Deng, not Boozer, to be Rose's primary partner in crime.

But enough negative talk, because Chicago should be proud of this game on the whole, as they were finally able to demonstrate their advantage in talent against the hard-working Pacers. The next round will undoubtedly be a different type of battle for the Bulls, as both Atlanta and Orlando are talented teams that sometimes coast on that talent. Indiana had no such luxury; they know that grit is the only thing earning them their meal ticket, so in that regard, both the Hawks and Magic might be more vulnerable to Chicago's hustle and hard-nosed defense.

But as Rose and his sore ankle will tell you, this is the playoffs. If the eighth-seeded Pacers taught us anything in five tough games, it's take nothing for granted.

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