Joakim Noah scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds on Saturday to lead the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls to a 99-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets and into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Facing a do-or-die seventh game, Noah asserted himself in every facet of the contest — connecting on 12-of-17 shots from the field and also blocking six shots.
The victory in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series earned the Bulls a second-round clash with reigning NBA champions Miami.
Chicago were without forward Luol Deng, their regular-season scoring leader who spent part of Saturday in hospital in Chicago.
Britain’s Deng had missed Game 6 — which the Bulls lost in Chicago — when he came down with flu-like symptoms, then developed complications from a spinal tap that he had to rule out a possible case of meningitis.
Chicago were also without guard Kirk Hinrich, still nursing a calf injury.
However, the Bulls showed a sense of urgency that the Nets could not match.
“Team of fighters,” Noah said in explaining Chicago’s success. “We’re not going to give up.”
Noah scored 16 points in the first half, leading three Chicago players who scored in double figures en route to a 61-44 halftime lead.
Noah also pulled down five offensive rebounds in the first half, his energy setting a tone for the Bulls.
“He gets us established,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He does a lot of things offensively with his passing and getting to the offensive boards, and then he anchors our defense.”
Marco Belinelli, stepping in for Deng, finished with 24 points for Chicago. Carlos Boozer added 17 and Nate Robinson scored 12.
The Bulls now travel to Miami for Game 1 against LeBron James and the Heat today.
“I’m very excited,” Noah said. “You want to play against the best. This is what it’s all about, playing the champs. It’s going to be a war.”
With their season on the line, the Nets responded early in the third quarter, trimming their 17-point halftime deficit to as little as four points.
However, after winning two straight games to force the decider, they ran out of steam.
The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 82-75. The Nets chipped away, but Boozer’s basket with 7:08 to play restored a double-digit lead for Chicago.
The Nets kept pushing, and Deron Williams’ three-pointer with 26.6 seconds to play again cut the deficit to four points, but Williams and Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson both missed long-range shots as Chicago closed it out.
Williams finished with 24 points and Brook Lopez added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Nets, but Lopez was held to 9-of-20 shooting in the defeat.
Johnson struggled even more, scoring just six points on 2-of-14 shooting for the Nets, who got 19 points from Gerald Wallace.