Derrick Rose scored 25 points, Luol Deng added 24 and the Chicago Bulls finally played like a top seed, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 116-89 in Game 5 to wrap up their first-round playoff series Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Bulls can breathe a little easier after getting a dominant performance by their MVP candidate and an emphatic win that came on the heels of four dramatic games.
They can also turn their attention to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they'll meet Atlanta or Orlando.
Rose seemed just fine after spraining his left ankle in Game 4, hitting 8 of 17 shots. He dominated in the early going and came up big in the third after the Pacers pulled within four. He scored 10 points over the final six minutes, and Chicago ended the quarter on a 23-8 run to blow the game open.
The Bulls hit 14 of 31 3-pointers, including five by Keith Bogans (15 points) and three each by Deng and Rose. Deng also had seven assists and six rebounds.
Joakim Noah added 14 points and eight rebounds, and the Bulls won a playoff series for the first time since they swept Miami in the first round in 2007 even though Carlos Boozer scored just two. Danny Granger scored 20 for the Pacers. Tyler Hansbrough added 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Pacers trailed the entire way and committed 21 turnovers.
The Pacers had just scored seven straight to pull within 61-57 midway through the third when Rose and the Bulls put them away. Taj Gibson actually started the barrage with a 19-footer. Then, Rose went to work.
He hit a 3-pointer, blocked Hibbert down low, and hit another 3. Then, he stole the ball from Nick Collison and got fouled on the break, hitting 1 of 2 free throws to make it 70-57 with 4:32 left in the quarter.
Rose nailed another 3 two minutes later to make it 75-60, and Bogans buried two more as the lead hit 82-65 with 42 seconds left. Things took a nasty turn in the closing seconds when Josh McRoberts threw an elbow at Noah and got ejected.
The two were starting to run the other way after a missed 3-pointer by Rose. McRoberts swung his right elbow at Noah and missed, but he got called for the flagrant foul 2 and got tossed. Noah hit both free throws with 2.5 seconds left to make it 84-65.
The series win is another big step for a rebuilt team that leaped into the championship picture, igniting the fan base in a way not seen since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were leading the way.
How they got here is well documented:
- The firing of coach Vinny Del Negro and hiring of Tom Thibodeau after back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round exits;
- The roster overhaul that brought in Boozer and a deep rotation after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined in Miami;
- The continued climb of Rose from Rookie of the Year to All-Star to possible MVP.
Where they go from here remains to be seen. This much is certain, though. Anything less than a deep run would be a disappointment, and the Bulls can exhale for now.
The Pacers, meanwhile, can take some satisfaction knowing that they improved in the latter half of the season after interim coach Frank Vogel replaced Jim O'Brien, then pushed the Bulls before bowing out.