The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks tip off Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Thursday, May 12 at 8:00 PM ET at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. ESPN has the television coverage.
Down 3-2 after Tuesday’s 95-83 defeat, the Hawks face elimination in Game 6. Fortunately, they will get a chance to extend the series on their home floor where they are 4-1 in these playoffs. Odds makers, however, don’t believe Atlanta will be up for the challenge. They have listed the Bulls as a 3.5-point favorite with the total set at 179 for Game 6.
If the odds makers are correct in their projection, the Bulls will be marching into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since Michael Jordan took them there in 1998.
League MVP Derrick Rose has been Jordan-like in these playoffs and Game 5 was no exception. Chicago’s point guard scored 33 points on 11 of 24 shots and dished out nine assists.
Jordan’s right-hand man was Scottie Pippen when the Bulls completed their second three-peat in 1998. Rose is yet to receive consistent help from another player on the team.
Power forward Carlos Boozer was brought in to give the Bulls a second scorer, but he has been slowed by a toe injury in this series and wasn’t very effective in round one against the Indiana Pacers.
Small forward Luol Deng is the closest thing Rose has to a reliable running mate. Deng provided more than adequate help in Game 5 with 23 points, three assists and four rebounds.
The Bulls also got a big spark from forward Taj Gibson, who scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“Taj Gibson pretty much changed the game when he came in,” Atlanta guard Joe Johnson said. “In that fourth quarter he was real big out there.”
“Taj is a good player,” Rose said. “I think he really doesn’t know how good he is.”
Despite another great performance from Rose and some much-need help from Deng and Gibson, Atlanta actually led 70-69 early in the fourth before giving up a 9-0 run.
The Hawks will need bigger games from Johnson and former Bull Jamal Crawford in order to see a Game 7. Johnson and Crawford, who combined to average 32.4 points per game during the regular season, combined for just 17 points in Game 5.
The duo has averaged 46.0 points in Atlanta’s two wins in this series.
Hawks backers might like to know the history that is on their side Thursday. Consider that favorites leading in a playoff series, provided they are a top-level team winning 75 percent or more of their games and playing a team with a winning record, are just 22-51 against the spread since 1996. This same system came through when the Hawks defeated the Bulls in Game 4.
In addition, the Hawks are 6-1 against the number in their last seven home games as an underdog of 4.5 points of less.
Bulls backers will like to know that their team is 11-5 against the spread in its last 16 road games and 21-8 against the number in its last 29 road games versus a team with a home winning percentage greater than .600.
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