Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) scores past Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson and forward Reggie Evans (30) in the first quarter of Game 7 of their NBA quarter final playoff basketball game in New York, May 4, 2013. Photo by Ray Stubblebine, Reuters
NEW YORK - Joakim Noah scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds Saturday 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 had to rule out a possible case of meningitis.
Chicago, which played all season without star Derrick Rose as he recovered from knee surgery, 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.
"Team of fighters," Noah said in explaining Chicago's success. "We're not going to give up."
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.
"I'm very excited," Noah said. "You want to play against the best. This is what it's all about, playing the champs. It's going to be a war."
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.
The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 82-75. The Nets chipped away, but Boozer's basket with 7:08 to play restored a double-digit lead for Chicago.
The Nets kept pushing, and Deron Williams' three-pointer with 26.6 seconds to play again cut the deficit to four points, but Williams and Brooklyn's Joe Johnson both missed long-range shots as Chicago closed it out.
Williams finished with 24 points and Brook Lopez added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Nets. But Lopez was held to 9-of-20 shooting in the defeat.
Johnson struggled even more, scoring just six points on 2-of-14 shooting for the Nets, who got 19 points from Gerald Wallace.
"We didn't want to go out like this," Lopez said. "We competed, we got better this season and we achieved a lot of our goals, but not all of them."
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