CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls aren’t quite finished after all. They’re still in a dire situation, though.
Luol Deng scored 24 points, Carlos Boozer added 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Chicago beat the Philadelphia 76ers 77-69 on Tuesday night to avoid a first-round playoff exit.
The top-seeded Bulls finally won without point guard Derrick Rose, building a nine-point halftime lead and staying in control down the stretch to pull within 3-2. Game 6 is Thursday in Philadelphia, and the way Chicago sees it, maybe, just maybe, some of the pressure is now on the 76ers.
“Definitely,” Deng said. “We’re in a situation where we know if we lose we go home. After tonight’s game, they’re going to feel a little pressure and try to close it out.”
It’s been a brutal series for the Bulls.
Rose tore the ACL in his left knee late in the opening win, casting a huge cloud over a team that came in eyeing another big run after reaching the conference finals a year ago, and things only got worse from there.
In Game 2, there was a second-half collapse at home. In Game 3, there was center Joakim Noah spraining his left ankle, and in Game 4, the Bulls came up short again.
With Rose out for the rest of the season and Noah sitting out his second straight game, Chicago came in looking like a team that was ready to bow out.
Instead, the Bulls locked down the Sixers, holding them to season lows for points and shooting ( 32.1 percent). And with Boozer and Deng coming up big, Chicago kept its season going.
“You can’t let one game all of a sudden get you spinning in the wrong direction,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “We didn’t expect to beat the Bulls four straight. This is a damn good team.”
Deng played more like an All-Star after averaging just eight points in the previous three games, hitting 4 of 5 3-point attempts — three in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed eight rebounds. Boozer tied a career-playoff high with six assists, and the Bulls came out on top just when their season appeared to be unraveling.
They still have no room for error.
A loss Thursday would make them the fifth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the first round and the second in as many years, after San Antonio fell to Memphis last season. But if they continue to play like this, the Bulls just might have a shot.
“They’re going to treat the game in Philly like it’s Game 7,” Chicago’s Richard Hamilton said. “They don’t want to come back here. We’ve got to figure out a way to do the same thing we did tonight, and hopefully, we’ll get the win.”
Jrue Holiday scored 16 points for Philadelphia but hit just 5 of 17 shots. Lou Williams scored 13 points and Andre Iguodala and Spencer Hawes both finished with 11 as the Sixers remained one win from their first series victory since 2003.
Hawes grabbed 14 rebounds, but it was a rough night for him after scoring 21 and 22 the previous two games. He wound up with a nasty scratch running from the side of his left eye to below the lip after going up for a shot during the fourth quarter.
Even Holiday said, “Wow, what’s that?” as Hawes walked by on his way out of the locker room.
“It’s a physical series,” Hawes said. “If that’s how it’s going to go, we can play that brand of basketball.”
There was some tension late in the second quarter after Boozer missed a jumper.
Taj Gibson and Elton Brand wound up on the court near the Bulls bench in a scramble for the loose ball, and they kept going at it as players from both sides joined the scrum.
Ronnie Brewer and Evan Turner appeared to exchange some heated words, but Gibson and Brand wound up getting technical fouls with 2:25 left.
“Got an elbow in the face,” Brand said. “Can’t allow that. But after the play was over, it’s over.”
The Bulls were on a 10-2 run to close the half that gave them a 35-26 lead. They were up 57-48 going into the fourth quarter after another injury scare late in the third.
This time, Gibson came up clutching his right ankle and hit the court after fouling Lavoy Allen underneath with just over 2 minutes left in the quarter. He came back early in the fourth to loud cheers, and the crowd was really roaring when Deng nailed a 3 to make it 67-52, giving the Bulls their biggest lead.
They had more to cheer when Gibson hit a jumper, pumping his fist, and two free throws to get the lead 71-58. And they were really screaming moments later when Brewer blocked Brand on a putback.
Question is: Will they be seeing the Bulls again this season?
“We feel like we can go to Philadelphia and get one great road win,” Boozer said.
Notes: Gibson vowed to be ready for Game 6, saying, “I’ll be fine. Knowing myself, I’m going to play. I’m not going to sit out.” … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau again said a timetable for Rose’s surgery has not been set. “They’re still talking things over,” he said. … Fans gave Rose a loud ovation and he responded with a wave when he was shown seated in a suite during a second-quarter timeout. … Brand had five points for Philadelphia, and Turner scored four.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)