The Bulls sound confident, too, as well they should. Just one more win will send them to the conference final for the first time since 1998, when Jordan and Scottie Pippen were on their way to a second three-peat.
“No matter the situation, down or up, we believe,” Boozer said. “They’re a good team. They’re aren’t going to be too many times in the playoffs when you blow a team out. In the course of a game there are going to be waves. … This is two very good teams battling things out.”
Chicago got vital contributions from its deep bench _ so much so that coach Tom Thibodeau stuck with second-stringers Gibson, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer with the game on the line in the final period. Gibson was especially impressive, scoring 11 points in the fourth and sparking the Bulls with his energetic, slashing style.
“We’ve basically done that all year,” Thibodeau said. “When one group gets going, we’ll ride them a little bit longer. It just happened to be at the end of the game. We’ve relied on everybody.”
No one more than Rose, of course. He kept attacking the rim in the final quarter and finished with 33 points and nine assists.
“We played hard,” Smith said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. But down the stretch, D-Rose just made some spectacular plays. Really spectacular plays.”
As for the Hawks, they fell into a familiar pattern in the fourth, stagnating on offense and relying too much on isolation plays. That was especially frustrating to coach Larry Drew after watching his team push the pace the two previous quarters, setting up plenty of easy baskets.
“One of our biggest demises is when we start holding the ball too long, not playing out of the double team,” he said. “When we start doing that, we become very predictable. We become very easy to defend.”
But he expects his up-and-down squad to respond with one of its best efforts of the year on Thursday.
“This is just another great opportunity to show what we’re made of,” Drew said. “We have been a team that always responded with our backs against the wall. We’ve always been a team that responded through adversity.”
Smith was excited when he heard about plans to give out white T-shirts to all the Atlanta fans for Game 6.
“It’s about time,” he quipped. “Stop being stingy. Towels are cool, but we need T-shirts. I like to see people in those white T-shirts. It’s going to be rowdy.”