CHICAGO >> Sitting on the bench with four fouls and his team struggling, Derrick Rose pleaded with his coach to put him back in the game.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau took the risk and his All-Star guard responded, lifting the Bulls to the second round.
Rose scored 25 points, Luol Deng added 24 and Chicago finally played like a top seed, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 116-89 in Game 5 to wrap up their first-round playoff series yesterday.
The top-seeded Bulls can breathe a little easier after getting a dominant performance by their MVP candidate and an emphatic win that came on the heels of four dramatic games.
They can also turn their attention to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they’ll meet Atlanta or Orlando.
“Speechless right now,” Rose said. “I really can’t believe it. It’s a great accomplishment. I’m happy for my teammates, happy for my coaching staff.”
Rose seemed just fine after spraining his left ankle in Game 4. He had it taped and acknowledged he was a bit apprehensive at first, but he wound up hitting eight of 17 shots. He dominated in the early going and came up big in the third after the Pacers pulled within four. He scored 10 points over the final 6 minutes after returning with four fouls, and Chicago ended the quarter on a 23-8 run.
The Bulls hit 14 of 31 3-pointers, including five by Keith Bogans (15 points) and three each by Deng and Rose. Deng also had seven assists and six rebounds.
Joakim Noah added 14 points and eight rebounds, and the Bulls won a playoff series for the first time since they swept Miami in the first round in 2007 and only the second time since the championship era. It was clearly their most impressive performance of the postseason, even though Carlos Boozer scored just two points.
“All year long, we’ve focused in on going step by step,” Thibodeau said. “I think once you start skipping steps and looking at all the other stuff, that’s when you get lost. So we knew we were capable of playing better, although … to be up 3-1, you’ve got to do a lot of things well, too.”
Danny Granger scored 20 for the Pacers and had some strong words afterward for Noah. He accused Noah of throwing elbows that ultimately led to a technical foul for A.J. Price after an altercation with Tyler Hansbrough and an ejection by Josh McRoberts later.
“He’s a dirty player, honestly,” Granger said.
Things took a nasty turn in the closing seconds of the third when McRoberts threw an elbow at Noah and got ejected.
The two were starting to run the other way after a missed 3-pointer by Rose. McRoberts said he was elbowed in the throat by Noah and simply retaliated by swinging his right elbow. That blow missed, but McRoberts got called for the flagrant foul 2 and got tossed.
“I was trying to shove back to defend myself,” he said.
Said Noah, “I wasn’t dirtier than anyone else. It was a battle down there. I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. I was just trying to win.”