Bulls took advantage in crunch
A variety of heroes keep Chicago alive
CHICAGO - At the end of this unbelievable night, in what is now the sixth chapter of a series that has been for cardiologists, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro displayed an emphatic fist pump to celebrate that his team had drawn even and would now be heading to Boston to settle it once and for all.
The rookie coach was almost at a loss for words following the Bulls' 128-127 victory in Game 6 last night.
"This definitely doesn't feel like my first year of coaching after this series," Del Negro said.
On this night, there was no one Bulls hero who stood out like Derrick Rose in Game 1 or Ben Gordon in Game 2. Instead, they took turns extending their season until at least tomorrow.
The deciding play was made by Rose. In the first half, he reminded observers why he was the Rookie of the Year as he went 8 for 10 on his way to 20 points. He struggled in the second half and committed four turnovers in the first overtime. But with the clock winding down in the third extra period, Rose blocked Rajon Rondo and got the ball back and drove the lane. He missed the foul shots, but the victory was sewn up.
"It's a one-on-one type of deal," Rose said. "I just wanted to get a slap or get him to put up a bad shot."
Rose's defensive play occurred just moments after what until then looked like the biggest play of the night. With the score tied at 123, Chicago's Joakim Noah stole the ball from Paul Pierce and, while running on fumes, was able to slam the ball home and draw a sixth foul from Pierce. The second-year forward later said it was the biggest basket of his life.
But Chicago would never have been in position to win had it not been for John Salmons and Brad Miller, who both came from Sacramento in February and whose presence led the Bulls into the postseason.
Salmons went 6 for 7 in the first quarter on his way to scoring a personal playoff record of 35 points and became the Bulls' go-to player.
Miller, who missed two foul shots at the end of Game 5 after Rondo's controversial foul, this time sank a 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining and converted a driving layup to tie the game.
"Guys have taken their turn on this team," Miller said. "That's what makes it fun - we don't know who is going to step up."
Miller finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Another contributor was Kirk Hinrich, who was forced to play almost 43 minutes because starter Ben Gordon got into foul trouble.
With less than a minute left in the first quarter, Hinrich got into a screaming match with Rondo after the two jousted. Rondo was assessed a flagrant 1 foul, Hinrich a technical. Hinrich was not surprised neither player was ejected.
"It's playoff basketball and you are going to have run-ins like that," he said.
So now the Bulls are on their way to Boston, trying to do something they never have done - win a Game 7 on the road.
"We are going to have to play the best game of the series," Del Negro said. "There is no pressure on us. The pressure is all on them. We are just going to go in there and play."
But for just a moment, the Bulls will relish what took place last night.
"As tired as I am, I probably won't be able to sleep tonight," Salmons said. "I'll be up all night thinking about the game."