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Wednesday, April 24

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« The Outfit Bring It Home 9 Things About Bulls vs. Heat »

Bulls Fri May 13 2011

Bulls Close Out Atlanta, Advance to East Finals

Whatever hopes the NBA nation had for a thrilling Game 6 last night in Atlanta were dashed quickly by the Bulls, who put together one of their best wire-to-wire performances of the season, beating the Hawks 93-73 to win the series and a date with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Thumbnail image for bulls hawks series logo.PNGChicago was led by Carlos Boozer(!), who owned his jump shot to the tune of 23 points and 10 rebounds. He even handed out five assists.

Derrick Rose took on the role of setup man, tossing out 12 assists, while scoring 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting -- a big drop from the usual 23-28 shots per game he's been taking all series.

The 4-2 series win puts Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time the since final Jordan championship in 1998. Awaiting them are the Heat, who struggled for a time with gigantic preseason expectations -- including going 0-3 against the Bulls in the regular season -- but are looking great as they come down from the high of eliminating the Celtics in six games.

Beyond winning the series, the Thursday's biggest story undoubtedly was Boozer. I'm not even sure what I can say about him, as so many weeks of mediocre contributions have me in disbelief that he really just played that game. But by grabbing the first rebound of the game and scoring seven of the Bulls' first 11 points, he made it clear to all on the court that this would be his game to lose.

The way Boozer had been playing, with 10 points and 5-10 rebounds per game, made the Bulls a very good team, as long as Rose plays up to his potential. But what we saw Thursday is the difference between a very good team and a championship team. It was a giant reminder of how good Chicago can be if everything falls into place, and I'd truly forgotten what that looked like.

The other key to the win was team defense. For once, there's a slight chance Tom Thibodeau sleeps on the flight home instead of watching game film, because his team practiced what he preaches for all 48 minutes. Atlanta shot only 36.5 percent from the field, including an awful 1-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc, and trailed the whole game.

Thus, we come to the conference finals, with Game One set for Sunday night at the United Center. One thing I'm sure of, and excited for, is that there is zero chance anyone on the Bulls takes Miami lightly.

Unlike against Indiana and Atlanta, Thibodeau won't need to talk up Chicago's opponent, and I think that's a good thing. Games were lost in both of those series because of what looked like complacency at times, and there was every reason to expect that sort of play might return Thursday.

But just as the Heat have shown this postseason that they've found another gear that wasn't there during the regular season, I think the Bulls showed in closing out the Hawks just how good they can play when they're fully dedicated to the task at hand. Against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Chicago knows that's exactly what it will take if they hope to advance.

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