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Bulls stay alive against 76ers as gritty efforts abound

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer drives by Sixers center Lavoy Allen first quarter as Chicago Bulls battle Philadelphi76ers game five first

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer drives by Sixers center Lavoy Allen in the first quarter as the Chicago Bulls battle the Philadelphia 76ers in game five of the first round of the NBA playoffs Tuesday May 8, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 11, 2012 9:24AM

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reminded his team that it has won three consecutive games 57 times the last two seasons. Now that the Bulls have staved off elimination with a 77-69 victory Tuesday over the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center, they’re two wins away from accomplishing that feat for the 58th time.

And two more victories would allow them to avoid being the fifth No. 1 seed in NBA history to be upset by the eighth seed since the 16-team format was introduced in 1984.

A season that began with Derrick Rose making a last-second shot on Christmas Day in Los Angeles will be extended to a Game 6 on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 76ers still hold a 3-2 advantage, but the pressure shifts to Doug Collins’ team, which would prefer to end the series at home rather than risk a Game 7 in Chicago.

“Sometimes having Derrick out, we just play a little bit differently,” Luol Deng said. “When Derrick is in the game, I’m less aggressive. Tonight I just really wanted to be aggressive.”

If the Bulls were going to extend this series, they had to generate offense. They’ve lost their best offensive weapon with Rose watching from his family’s suite with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. They also have missed Joakim Noah’s offensive rebounding and his ability to initiate their offense after he twisted his ankle in Game 3.

Getting Deng the ball was the focus for the Bulls early. He had nine points in the first quarter, including a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left that gave the Bulls a 17-16 lead.

He made three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including an off-balance bomb with 1:32 left and the shot clocking winding down to help the Bulls maintain a 10-point advantage.

Deng finished with 24 points and eight rebounds for a Bulls team that held the 76ers to 32 percent shooting. Carlos Boozer scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half. He also had 13 rebounds and tied a career playoff high with six assists.

“Boozer and Deng were great tonight,” Collins said. “Deng hit some big shots, some big threes. We just struggled to make shots. Give them credit. The more that you’re in the playoffs, the more physical every game gets. They just got into us physically.”

Taj Gibson helped set the tone and ignited the UC crowd with four blocks, seven rebounds and eight points before twisting his right ankle late in the third quarter.

He returned in the fourth quarter but favored the ankle and was limping after the game. His status for Game 6 will be re-evaluated Wednesday.

“I’ll do everything in my power to play,” Gibson said. “I’ll have all summer to lay back at home.”

Just as important were the contributions of Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer, who played by far their best games of the postseason.

Asik had six rebounds, three blocked shots and four points, and Brewer contributed six points, three assists and eight rebounds.

Both will need to play critical roles in Game 6 if the Bulls are to force a Game 7 on Saturday.

“We have to play a great road game,” Thibodeau said of Game 6.

“That’s all we’re thinking about.”

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