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Ballistic Bulls drop Hawks 93-73, now are Heat-seekers

Carlos Boozer whose 23 points 10 rebounds Thursday night were reminder damage he can bring reacts basket by Omer Asik

Carlos Boozer, whose 23 points and 10 rebounds Thursday night were a reminder of the damage he can bring, reacts to a basket by Omer Asik as the Bulls disposed of the Hawks in Game 6 at Philips Arena. | Kevin C. Cox~Getty Images

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Game 1: 7 p.m. Sunday, at Bulls

Game 2: 7:30 Wednesday, at Bulls

Game 3: 7:30 May 22, at Heat

Game 4: 7:30 May 24, at Heat

Game 5: 7:30 May 26, at Bulls*

Game 6: 7:30 May 28, at Heat*

Game 7: 7:30 May 30, at Bulls*

* If necessary

All games on TNT/1000-AM

Morrissey: Bulls ready to send message to Heat
Cowley: Boozer arrives before last call
Potash: Bulls' defense stifles Hawks
Rose easily makes NBA All-Star first team
Hawks can't back up their talk

Updated: June 14, 2011 12:33AM

ATLANTA — Opposites attract. So it’s the Heat and the anti-Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

On Thursday night, the Bulls punched a ticket to their first conference finals since 1998, knocking out the Atlanta Hawks with a 93-73 victory in Game 6 that clinched this series 4-2.

They’ll be opposite the Miami Heat beginning Sunday in Chicago.

That’s appropriate.

They’ve been the opposite of the Heat for nearly a year.

‘‘It’s huge for us to get this far,’’ point guard Derrick Rose said. ‘‘It’s going to be fun. We’re definitely happy to be here. But we’re not just trying to stop here. [The Heat is] a great team. It’s going to be hard. But this year, it wasn’t easy.’’

For all that these Bulls have
accomplished — including sweeping the Heat in their three regular-season meetings and posting the NBA’s best record — they’ll be the underdog in this series.

‘‘We’re fine with that,’’ Rose said. ‘‘We know we put a lot of work in. To us, we’re not here by surprise. If anything, our defense got us here. That’s what we’re going to try and do — continue to play defense.’’

The Bulls were one of the teams LeBron James spurned in last summer’s infamous ‘‘Decision,’’ which brought him together with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Expected to romp, the James gang had a rough ride during the regular season, and a lot of fans enjoyed that. They frequently were greeted with boos in arenas where they were perceived as self-absorbed superstars.

Meanwhile, the Bulls, who were expected to be a .500 team, soared to an NBA-best 62-20 behind the sparkling play of Rose, their bashful superstar. And they were cheered regularly wherever they went because of their unassuming style.

The Heat has two of the league’s top scorers, but no bench. The Bulls have a bench, but no second option. Or so the theories go.

Glitz vs. Lunch Pail. Miami vs. Chicago. It fits the personalities of the cities.

‘‘We worked really hard to be in this position,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘To be here in the conference finals, you couldn’t write it any better.’’

The Bulls showed that personality in closing out the Hawks. And they looked awfully ready for what’s next.

‘‘I thought our guys did a great job of getting ready,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘[The conference finals] is the next step. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Our defense was really good. We shared the ball, and we took care of it. It was a good all-around game for us.’’

The Bulls held the Hawks to 36.5 percent shooting. The Bulls shot 53 percent. And they had a dazzling 34 assists on their 41 field goals.

Rose led the way with 19 points and 12 assists. And thanks to forward Carlos Boozer, the Bulls didn’t lean so hard on the their MVP.

Looking very much like the second option the Bulls aren’t supposed to have, Boozer had a big night, dropping in 23 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Boozer shot 10-for-16 and fired from all over the floor with an emphasis on top-of-the-key jumpers.

The Heat could be a good matchup for Boozer.

‘‘He’s feeling a lot better,’’ Thibo­deau said. ‘‘The last three games, his moves were a lot sharper. He’s jumping. He had great rhythm.
Offensively, you could see he has his bounce back.’’

Hawks coach Larry Drew saw it.

‘‘When Boozer’s making shots like that, it’s tough,’’ Drew said. ‘‘Give them credit. They made shots tonight.’’

Lockdown defense. Efficient, effective offense. It’s what the Bulls did all season. And in what Rose had called ‘‘the biggest game of our life,’’ they delivered a big-time performance.

‘‘Guys were locked in from the start of the game,’’ forward Luol Deng said. ‘‘We shared the ball well. It was just great basketball from start to finish.’’

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