ATLANTA -- Derrick Rose simply had to run the show. The MVP had plenty of help in this one, and the Chicago Bulls are off to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since M.J. was at the controls.
Carlos Boozer scored 23 points and Rose doled out 12 assists, pushing Chicago out to a big lead in the first half that carried the Bulls past Atlanta, 93-73, in the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night. They finished off the Hawks in six games.
Chicago advanced to its first conference final since 1998, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were on their way to a second three-peat. The Bulls fell on hard times after that glorious era, including three straight 60-loss seasons, but they have put together a deep, talented team that won more games than anyone during the regular season.
Yep, even more than the ballyhooed Miami Heat, whose Big Three are waiting in the next round, with a spot in the NBA Final on the line. Game 1 is Sunday in Chicago.
"It's not surprising me at all, where we're at right now," Rose said. "We know that we have something special in front of us."
Rose was right in the middle of things, of course. He scored 19 points in addition to setting up all those baskets, but this was a textbook performance by the guys around him, each of them comfortable in a supporting role, each of them willing to do the dirty work at the defensive end.
Luol Deng hit some big baskets early and finished with 13 points, plus five steals. Joakim Noah scored 11 and stifled the Hawks with three blocks.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 19 points. Josh Smith was the only other player in double figures with 18.
The Hawks went 1-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Rose had been averaging nearly 30 points a game in the playoffs. No need for heroics in this one; he took just 14 shots, his lowest of the postseason, and wound up with his second-fewest points.
That's OK. He got to spend the final minutes on the bench, celebrating with his teammates.
"This is huge," Rose said.
Deng went down early, landing hard after Smith got a piece of him going for the block. Deng was OK, staying in the game to shoot a pair of free throws after a timeout.
Then Atlanta got its own scare early in the second quarter. Jeff Teague, the fill-in point guard who had been the surprise of the series, had a nasty fall along the baseline. He went straight to the X-ray room, his right arm dangling limply beside him as he trotted off in obvious pain.
Nothing was broken, but it turned out both wrists were sprained. He returned late in the second quarter all taped up, but it didn't help much. During breaks, he rubbed at the tape and kept flexing his wrist. The second-year player wasn't a factor, scoring just 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting.
"It was pretty bad," Teague said. "It was pretty tough to hold the ball. There was no way I could shoot the ball."
But he was hardly the only one who struggled. Horford, who had been named to the All-NBA third team earlier in the day, went 2-of-10. So did Jamal Crawford, the victim of persistent double-teaming ever since he had a big game in Atlanta's surprising Game 1 win.
The Bulls raced out to a big lead, just as they had in Game 5. Boozer led with way with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists in the first half as Chicago led by as many at 17.
Atlanta made a late surge, the crowd on its feet when Smith pulled off a spectacular dunk on a lob from Johnson -- despite getting a shove from Noah as he was soaring toward the hoop.
But a big call went against Smith, costing the Hawks a chance to cut the gap to single figures before halftime. He scored off another fast break, and the referees had to confer before ruling the Rose had drawn the offensive foul. Smith grabbed his head in disbelief and pleaded with the officials, to no avail.
Chicago settled for a 45-35 halftime lead and never let the margin below double figures over the final two quarters.