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Thursday, May 12, 2011

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Dead center: Chicago's Derrick Rose goes for the basket through a crowd of Atlanta players during the Bulls' 95-83 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday. AP

Rose leads Bulls past Hawks


CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls were looking for someone, anyone, to provide a spark, and it figured that Derrick Rose would.

It was no shocker, either that Taj Gibson provided one, too.

Rose scored 33 points, Gibson scored all of his 11 in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls beat the Atlanta Hawks 95-83 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead.

Luol Deng added 23 points and Chicago let out a big sigh of relief.

"It's definitely fun playing against a good team," Rose said. "Coach always said we're going to have to walk through the fire together. Every series has tested us in every way, but I think that we're sticking together."

Game 6 is Thursday in Atlanta, and a win would put Chicago in the conference finals for the first time since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen wrapped up their second championship three-peat in 1998. They are in this position after dominating Atlanta in the fourth quarter 26-15, with Rose matching Gibson's 11 points.

Rose showed why he is the league's youngest MVP, hitting 11 of 24 shots and finishing with nine assists. It was a big improvement over Game 4 when he needed 32 shots to score 34 points, and he was particularly effective down the stretch, attacking the rim.

"It forces the defense to collapse, leads to easy opportunities for others, it leads to some second shots," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We want to be inside-out so I thought it was huge."

Atlanta's Jeff Teague came up big again filling in for the injured Kirk Hinrich, scoring 21 for the third time in this series, but the Hawks came up short in the end.

Josh Smith contributed 16 points, Joe Johnson 15, Zaza Pachulia 13 and Al Horford added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"We were playing for everything," Horford said. "We have to regroup again and get ready for Thursday."

It hasn't been an easy postseason for the Bulls after they stormed to a league-leading 62 wins, with Indiana pushing them in the first round and the Hawks doing the same. Even so, they are poised to advance.

The Bulls led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter but were trailing 70-69 early in the fourth when they went on a 9-0 run.

Rose started it when he drove to his left for a layup, fed Gibson a no-look pass in transition for a three-point play and added a layup that made it 78-70.

Then, midway through the fourth, he drove for a three-point play that made it 85-76. Fans were screeching "MVP! MVP!" as he buried the free throw, and after Atlanta pulled within six, Chicago reeled eight straight to make it 93-79, with six points coming from Gibson.

"Taj is a good player," Rose said. "I think he really doesn't know how good he is."

The fourth quarter aside, it wasn't an easy night for the Bulls.

Considering Chicago got 15 points each from Rose and Deng in the first half and led by as many as 15, the Hawks were probably glad to be trailing 48-42 at halftime. They kept coming at the Bulls in the third quarter.

Things got particularly tense after a two-handed dunk by Smith cut Chicago's lead to 61-60 with just over 4 minutes left in the period. He hung on the rim and Carlos Boozer gave him a forearm to the face, leading to a retaliatory shove from Smith and technical fouls for both players.

"I dunked the basketball and I go to turn and he just cleared me with an elbow to the jaw," Smith said. "Nobody is going to do that to me. I don't care who you are. I'm a man first."

Bird to stay with Pacers


Indianapolis — Larry Bird will get to see his rebuilding project through, after all.

The Indiana Pacers announced Tuesday that they will keep Bird as team president after he met with owner Herb Simon in Los Angeles.

The Pacers made their first playoff appearance since 2006 this season in the final year of Bird's contract, and the future looks bright. Danny Granger, the veteran starter, is 28, and none of the remaining starters — Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George or Roy Hibbert — is older than 25.

"I'm quite pleased with the success we experienced this past season and pleased with the direction our team is going," Simon said in a statement. "I'm glad Larry is staying to help us continue in the positive direction we are going."

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