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Thursday, June 30

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Bulls Thu May 05 2011

Renewed Effort Helps Bulls Pull Even in Game 2

After losing the first game of their second-round series with Atlanta, the Bulls and the defense that carried them to an NBA-best 62 wins this season finally arrived Wednesday in Game 2. Chicago won 86-73 by holding the fifth-seeded Hawks to 33.8 percent from the field, including 3-of-13 on 3-pointers, and earning 44 of their 58 rebounds on the defensive glass.

And of course, newly-minted NBA MVP Derrick Rose led the way with 25 points (though on 10-of-27 shooting), six rebounds, 10 assists and two blocks.

In true (Coach of the Year) Tom Thibodeau fashion, the Bulls came out committed on the defensive end. Joe Johnson, dominant in Game 1, was held to 16 points, while Jamal Crawford shot 2-for-10 and Josh Smith was 4-for-14.

As Chicago focused its attention elsewhere, second-year point guard Jeff Teague went to town, scoring a team-high 21 points while committing zero turnovers -- an impressive stat for a talented but inexperienced 22-year-old playing major minutes only because of Kirk Hinrich's hamstring injury.

But with eight turnovers alongside his 25 points, Rose wasn't really Chicago's best player. Joakim Noah showed up ready to match the home crowd's energy and ended up dominating in the paint. He scored 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added 14 rebounds, three steals and a block. At the line, he hit 7 of 8 free throws. It was Noah's best game since returning from injury, and as Chicago continues through the playoffs, he appears healthy and ready to be the live wire inside Chicago needs.

Which brings us to Carlos Boozer. Eight points on 4-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds just aren't enough for someone with his salary. But if you forget about his contract -- and overlook the defensive problems that got him replaced by Taj Gibson in crunch time -- he still helps more than he hurts. I'm getting to the point where I'm content with that.

Luol Deng had a great game, scoring 14 points and collecting 12 rebounds, with 12 of those points coming in the second half. He's excelled so much this year that, quite frankly, I've reversed the expectations I had for him and Boozer before the season. Deng has become an outstanding player, capitalizing whenever defenses focus too much on Rose, and yet he's done it so quietly. As I look towards Game Three and beyond, I'm appreciating how important Deng is to this team.

Now it's off to Atlanta for a Friday-Sunday double dip -- and while the Hawks must be glad to have split the first two in Chicago, we were reminded in Game 2 that the Bulls are the class of the league when they play with maximum effort. Let's hope we see more of that attitude this weekend.

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