The Chicago Bulls produced a stingy fourth-quarter defensive effort to beat the Atlanta Hawks 95-83 on Tuesday, which gave them a 3-2 Eastern Conference semi-final series lead.
“We’ve prepared ourselves all season for moments like this. The playoffs are like this. They’re hard-fought, a grind. You have to overcome things,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We were able to get penetration and the ball in the paint, and I thought we made timely shots. We got the ball up the floor quicker. We hung tough and stayed together and got stops.”
The Bulls held the Hawks to just 15 points in the fourth quarter to regain control of a game they had led for much of the first three quarters.
The teams exchanged the lead eight times over a stretch of 2 minutes, 40 seconds straddling the third and fourth quarters, until league MVP Derrick Rose gave the Bulls the lead for good at 71-70 with a driving layup.
Chicago had led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter, but did not score a field goal over the final six minutes of the first half, allowing Atlanta to trim the lead to 48-42.
Atlanta continued to cut into the Bulls lead and took their first lead at 64-63 with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
Rose led the Bulls with 33 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and nine assists. Taj Gibson came off the bench and also scored 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Luol Deng added 23 points, while Carlos Boozer grabbed 12 rebounds. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 21 points.
“The series is not over,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “We have to go in and play with a ton of energy on Thursday [today]. We have to do a better job keeping Derrick Rose out of our paint.”
“If we do that, we should be coming back here for a Game 7,” Smith said.
Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum has been suspended for the first five games of next season for his flagrant foul on Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea, the NBA said on Tuesday.
Bynum was ejected for elbowing Barea while the guard was in mid-air with 8 minutes, 21 seconds left in Sunday’s Game 4 in Dallas, Texas, where the Lakers were routed 122-86 and swept from the playoffs.
The 2.13m center has also been fined US$25,000 by the league for removing his jersey as he exited the court.
Earlier on Tuesday, at the Lakers’ training base in El Segundo, California, Bynum issued a public apology for his behavior against the Mavericks.
“I want to apologize for my actions,” Bynum told reporters. “They don’t ... represent me, my upbringing, this franchise or any of the Lakers’ fans out there that want to watch us and want us to succeed.”
“More importantly, I want to apologize to J.J. Barea for doing that. I’m just glad that he wasn’t seriously injured in the event,” Bynum said. “After I saw it [on tape], it was definitely embarrassing. It was terrible and it definitely won’t be happening again.”
Bynum will be suspended for the first five games of the next regular season for which he is eligible and physically able to play.
Meanwhile, Larry Bird will remain as the Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations, with David Morway staying on as general manager of the NBA club, team owner Herb Simon announced on Tuesday.
The Pacers went 37-45 this past season and were ousted by NBA regular-season wins leader Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs.