The Atlanta Hawks gave the Chicago Bulls all they had for three quarters. Then the Bulls decided to play defense.
Derrick Rose had 33 points and nine assists and Taj Gibson netted 11 in the crucial final quarter as Chicago charged to a hard-fought 95-83 win over Atlanta in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup on Tuesday night at the United Center.
Luol Deng posted 23 points and Carlos Boozer and Keith Bogans added 11 each for the Bulls, who took a critical 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Hawks must now close out the series with two consecutive wins over a Bulls team that hasn't lost back-to-back games since early February -- a very tough road, indeed.
Atlanta clawed back into this one, erasing a 15 point deficit with a strong and somewhat testy third quarter, which included a skirmish between Josh Smith and Boozer. Smith, who sparred with Boozer after a dunk cut the lead to 61-60 with 4:07 left in the third, drained a 22-foot jumper to give Atlanta a 64-63 lead with 1:45 left in the frame.
The Hawks posted their last lead on Zaza Pachulia's jumper late in the third before one of the league's best team decided to play a little defense. Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau went with a lineup that included Rose, Deng, Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik down the stretch against a tired Hawks team that simply did not have an answer.
Chicago went on an 11-2 run to take a 78-70 edge on a layup by Rose with 8:29 left and never looked back. The Hawks went to their tried-and-failed take-a-bad-jumper offense and wilted down the stretch. As the pressure mounted, the shot selection was lacking. The passes were not as crisp. The rotation not as sharp. The baskets came too early. As a result, the Hawks will have the unenviable task of trying to close out the No. 1 seeded Bulls with two straight wins.
Yes, the Hawks were victimized on a bad non-call when Jeff Teague stole the ball and was tackled by Rose and could have gotten back into the game there. But fans of Atlanta's basketball team can not fault the refs for their team's fourth quarter demise. The Hawks simply did not make the adjustments they needed to when the Bulls ratcheted up the pressure on defense.
For a while, this one looked like it was going to be a battle. Smith was effective inside, posting 16 points in this one. Once again, Teague had a strong game, netting 21. And also Atlanta got an unexpected performance from Pachulia. Zaza, who scored just 12 points in the first four games of the series, finished with 13. He was most effective in the second quarter as a 15-point deficit was whittled down to just six at the break.
But ultimately it was too much Rose, too much Gibson and not enough Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
Atlanta's two offensive spark plugs were silenced once again by Chicago's help defense. Johnson and Crawford connected for just 17 points on 7-for-24 shooting from the field in this one, which is definitely not enough to get the job done.
The Hawks are a team that live and die by the jumper and the energy that Johnson and Crawford provide. Without that in this one, Atlanta could not withstand a late Chicago run. As a result, it's the Bulls that have a chance to close out the series in Game 6 on Thursday night at the Highlight Factory.
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