Joakim Noah scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds yesterday 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.
Also advancing into the second round is the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 103-94 victory over the Houston Rockets.
The Thunder wrapped up a 4-2 triumph in their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series and booked a second-round clash with the Memphis Grizzlies, who avenged their first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last year with a 118-105 victory that lifted them to a 4-2 series win over Chris Paul and the Clippers.
In the Chicago-Brooklyn face-off, Chicago were without forward Luol Deng, their regular-season scoring leader who spent part of the day 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.
Meanwhile, in a back-and-forth between the Thunder and Rockets, Houston led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by as many as 10 in the third quarter, but Oklahoma City authored a 14-4 scoring run early in the final period and pulled away for the victory.
Oklahoma City led 78-77 going into the fourth quarter and held Houston to 6-of-19 shooting in the period.
James Harden, battling strep throat, scored 26 points with six rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, who had 25 points from Chandler Parsons. Omer Asik had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
"In that fourth quarter with about seven minutes left we were just stagnant. We couldn't get any movement or make any shots," Harden said.
Houston had to make do without key reserve Carlos Delfino, who needs surgery on his right foot.
Jeremy Lin came off the bench in the first quarter after missing two games with a bruised chest muscle. He scored three points in less than six minutes on the floor.
Oklahoma City had an encouraging performance from Reggie Jackson, filling in for star Russell Westbrook who had right knee surgery on April 27 and will miss the rest of the playoffs.
"He's a guy that can continue to lead us as the playoffs go along," Brooks said of Jackson, who scored 17 points with seven rebounds and eight assists.*AFP
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