NEW YORK (AFP) –
Joakim Noah scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls to a 99-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets and into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Facing a do-or-die seventh game, Noah asserted himself in every facet of the contest connecting on 12-of-17 shots from the field and also blocking six shots.
The victory in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series earned the Bulls a second-round clash with reigning NBA champions Miami.
Chicago were without forward Luol Deng, their regular-season scoring leader who spent part of Saturday in hospital in Chicago.
Britain’s Deng had missed game six — which the Bulls lost in Chicago — when he came down with flu-like symptoms, then developed complications from a spinal tap that he underwent to rule out a possible case of meningitis.
Chicago, which played all season without star Derrick Rose who underwent rehabilitation from a torn knee ligament, was also without guard Kirk Hinrich, still nursing a calf injury.
But the Bulls showed a sense of urgency that the Nets couldn’t match.
Noah scored 16 points in the first half, leading three Chicago players who scored in double figures en route to a 61-44 halftime lead.
Noah also pulled down five offensive rebounds in the first half, his energy setting a tone for the Bulls.
“He gets us established,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He does a lot of things offensively with his passing and getting to the offensive boards, and then he anchors our defense.”
Marco Belinelli, stepping in for Deng, finished with 24 points for Chicago. Carlos Boozer added 17 and Nate Robinson scored 12.
The Bulls will now travel to Miami for game one against LeBron James and the Heat on Monday.
With their season on the line, the Nets responded early in the third quarter, trimming their 17-point halftime deficit to as little as four points.
But after winning two straight games to force the decider they ran out of steam.
Deron Williams scored 24 points and Brook Lopez added 21 points and nine rebounds. But Lopez was held to 9-of-20 shooting in the defeat.
Joe Johnson struggled even more, scoring just six points on 2-of-14 shooting for the Nets, who got 19 points from Gerald Wallace.