1. Bout Time: Bulls-Hawks Might Go Distance
Smith reacted with a subtle shove back at Boozer, which prompted the two forwards to square off and get face to face, with the threat of a more serious confrontation looming Tuesday at a pivotal point in Game 5.
Normally, this is when teammates rush in, grab someone and try to separate the potential combatants. But not this time. If Boozer and Smith wanted to trade blows, the moment was theirs.
The only things standing between the two were an inch of airspace and an opportunity to rumble, with the outcome still hanging very much in the balance.
Instead, Boozer and Smith had a Pacquiao-Mosley moment.
All flex. No fight.
It was probably the only time in a highly heated game when you knew nothing would go down in what turned out to be a 95-83 Bulls victory at the United Center that moved Chicago into a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Sometimes, you just lose it," said Bulls forward Luol Deng, who stepped between Boozer and Smith to end the stare down and would later joke about the moment. "I haven't seen a fight yet, when they just let guys fight. Guys can fight afterward and keep their money. There might be a little bit of shoving, when guys lose their cool. But no one's going to fight."
Still, Derrick Rose and the Bulls finally have the much-tougher-than-expected Hawks against the ropes. Chicago is in position to land the knockout blow in Game 6 on Thursday in Atlanta. But if you've followed this series, you should feel certain that it's far from over. Just as certain as you were that Boozer and Smith really, truly wanted no part of each other.
Through five games in what's proved to be an evenly matched series between teams with equally high potential as well as complementary flaws, the only thing that's been decided is that this Bulls-Hawks slugfest will almost definitely be a seven-game fight to the finish.
These teams took a detour to get here, but at 3-2 this series is right where it's supposed to be when both teams essentially hold serve. The Bulls won Round 5 Tuesday with the same effective combination of flurries the Hawks landed to even the series in their Game 4 victory in Atlanta on Sunday.
This time, it was Rose who had the more efficient and effective outing than Hawks star Joe Johnson. Rose responded to all the nonsense talk of his high volume of shots the past few games by scoring 33 points on an 11-of-24 effort from the field to go with nine assists and just two turnovers.
It was Johnson who needed 15 shots to finish with a pedestrian 15 points.
This time, it was Taj Gibson who provided the energy, versatility and emotional boost in front of his home crowd to put the Bulls over the top. Last game, Josh Smith starred in that very same "what in the world has gotten into him" role in Atlanta.
Last time, it was the Hawks who went on that 16-4 run to close the game. This time, it was the Bulls who used a 24-9 spurt in the fourth quarter to erase a deficit and push out to a 14-point lead.
What's clear is that these teams officially are now sick and tired of seeing each other. We've reached that point in the series when it's no longer about adjustments.
It's about aggression.
It's come to a point when the players -- even the coaches -- are well beyond the feeling-out process. Right now, it's about making the opponent feel your presence in the lane. If it takes a little elbow or a shove under the basket to send a message, so be it.
"I think it's just a playoff sort of thing," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of the testy moments that have become as much a part of this series as D-Rose crossover moves. "It's Game 5. It's five straight games against the same opponent. They know everything that we're doing and we know everything that they're doing. It's a fight. You've got to be able to get through it. That's just the way it is."
What we have now are two teams that have gained the respect of the other.
Five games in, D-Rose is acknowledging that Hawks second-year sparkplug Jeff Teague is making him work hard on both ends, and that the two go back to their prep days on the AAU summer circuit.
Five games in, Johnson can admit that Ronnie Brewer and the Bulls' other perimeter defenders have hounded him to the point where he could use a little relief.
Now facing playoff elimination, Hawks coach Larry Drew has introduced composure to his strategy in preparing to get a win Thursday and force Game 7 on Sunday back in Chicago.
"I thought it was pretty physical [and] we knew it would be like that," Drew said. "The most important thing in a game like this is with the game getting more physical, we have to maintain our composure. We did not want the physicality to take us out of what we do. We have to come out [Thursday] and play like a desperate team. We have to play like our back is against the wall, which it is."
With the top-seeded Bulls now one victory from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, Rose was asked Tuesday about a potential showdown with the Miami Heat, who have a 3-1 series lead on Boston entering Wednesday's potential elimination game in Miami.
Rose's response was the slowest he's moved all series. Eventually, it was obvious he wanted no part in looking past the Hawks. Especially not with the way this series has been going.
Instead, he equated the challenge of getting past the Hawks to walking through fires and getting through wars. To Rose, it seems this series has trudged along for 50 games, not five.
"It's seems like we've played a lot against each other," Rose said. "We cannot get tired. This is the biggest thing. We know that game down there, they are going to give us their all. We know this is going to be a war going to Atlanta. The next game is the biggest game of our lives. That's what we have to go in there thinking."
That sentiment was mutual.
"We're playing for everything," Hawks forward Al Horford said. "We have to regroup again and get ready for Thursday."
Both teams are bracing for another fight on their hands in Round, er, Game 6.
The way this series has played out, would you expect anything less?
Well, you just might -- if Smith and Boozer were the ones in the center of the ring.
2. Bulls Bench Rises To The Occasion
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is not usually someone who goes by hunches. He sometimes will ride a hot hand, but he has his rotation, and it's one that worked to forge the NBA's best regular-season record.
But in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday, Thibodeau felt a vibe, or energy, produced by several of his bench players, and he rode it.
The result was a 95-83 victory that gave the Bulls a 3-2 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks.
"Our bench was great," Thibodeau said. "They got it going pretty good, so we stayed with them.
"It was the way the game unfolded, and then the matchups that we had. So it sort of forced our hand a little bit."
It was the Bulls' defense that clinched the win in the fourth, holding the Hawks to 15 points as Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik played the entire 12 minutes while Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Keith Bogans stayed on the bench.
Gibson and Derrick Rose each scored 11 fourth-quarter points.
"My teammates were looking for me," Gibson said. "I was playing with a lot of energy, and I was making some baskets.
"One thing about us is we play with a lot of energy and are a hard-nosed team."
3. Daily Dime Live
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Tuesday's slate of NBA playoff talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Jamal Crawford, Hawks: As Jamal's shot goes, so go the Hawks. He went 1-for-9 from the field in the Game 5 loss. For the series, he's shooting 6-for-26 (23 percent) in three losses, but 13-for-27 (48 percent) in two wins.
I heard Pat gave one of those showtime speeches to the @MiamiHeat the other night. I got goose bumps just thinking about what he said.12:15 a.m. ET via WhoSay Favorite Retweet ReplyEarvin Magic Johnson
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I dunked the basketball and I go to turn and he just cleared me with an elbow to the jaw. Nobody is going to do that to me. I don't care who you are. I'm a man first."
-- Hawks forward Josh Smith, responding to a forearm he got in the face from Carlos Boozer after a two-handed dunk by Smith cut Chicago's lead to 61-60 with about four minutes left in the period. After a retaliatory shove from Smith, both players were assessed technical fouls.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. LeBron's Biggest Shots
BOSTON -- LeBron James has played in 80 playoff games in 15 series over the past six years. I have attended them all and have seen both his greatest and worst moments.
Monday night was one of his best performances. James' 35 points and 14 rebounds were the centerpieces of the Miami Heat's 98-90 overtime win over the Boston Celtics, which gave his team a 3-1 series lead. He also made one of the greatest playoff shots of his career late in the fourth quarter.
Here's where I rank it with James' memorable postseason shots:
1. May 22, 2009: The greatest clutch shot of James' career came at the buzzer in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, a 3-pointer that he let go with less than a second left and his Cavs down two to the Magic. Down 1-0 in the series, the top-seeded Cavs were desperate at the moment and had very few options on the play. James caught and released the shot in an instant, creating one of the greatest memories of his time in Cleveland.
2. May 9, 2011: In a pressure-cooker at TD Garden, James hit a step-back 3-pointer with two minutes left to tie the score against the Celtics and ultimately force overtime. Moments after Ray Allen had hit a 3-pointer to break a tie and bring everyone in the arena to their feet, James got stuck in the corner at the end of the shot clock. He was only inches from the Celtics' bench, where everyone was standing and screaming in his ears. Paul Pierce, knowing the shot clock was about to expire and that he had help behind him, was right up on James with his hand nearly touching James' face. The basket drained the Celtics' momentum and inspired James' teammates.
7. Teague For 21
8. Rose Making His Point
Derrick Rose scored 33 points in the Chicago Bulls' 95-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Rose has made at least 10 shots from the field in each of the first five games of the Chicago-Atlanta series. Only one other player scored at least 10 field goals in each of the first five games of any playoff series this year or last: Dwyane Wade, in the Heat's first-round series against the Celtics last season.
9. Hoop Talk
The B.S. Report: 5/12
Bill Simmons talks with Celtics broadcaster Sean Grande about the end of Boston's season. Could the Miami Heat really win it all? Can Boston contend for the title next season?