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Nets hold off Bulls, head home for Game 7

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- The Brooklyn Nets shot 27.8 percent from the field in the second half, but they never relinquished the lead and survived to beat the short-handed Chicago Bulls 95-92 Thursday night at the United Center.

The Nets have rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the first-round series to force a decisive Game 7 on Saturday in Brooklyn. The winner moves on to face the Miami Heat, beginning Monday.

"We haven't turned the corner, but we're looking a lot better than we looked when we left here last Saturday (after losing Game 4)," Brooklyn coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "So I'm just really proud of our guys. It was kind of a bloodbath game, and fortunately we came out on top and put ourselves in position now. We can take a deep breath until the plane takes off, then it's one game to advance."

Chicago played without Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Luol Deng (illness), while Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson were still feeling sick.

"In the NBA, over the course of a season, guys get sick, they play through illness," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I thought Nate still functioned. He's been sick for a while."

Winning for the first time in five games in Chicago this season, the Nets led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter. The clinching points were two free throws by Andray Blatche with 19.2 seconds left.

After Marco Belinelli missed a potential tying 3-pointer, Chicago center Joakim Noah tied up Nets guard Deron Williams and forced a jump ball with 3.6 seconds to go. Noah had the height advantage but couldn't tip the ball to a teammate. Brooklyn's Joe Johnson grabbed it as time expired.

Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez all scored 17 points to lead the Nets. Forward Reggie Evans grabbed 15 rebounds.

"We just believed in one another and that we could do this," Johnson said. "We're just playing hard. Now it's down to one game, one game at Brooklyn. (The fans) are our sixth man. Brooklyn will be ready. It will be a madhouse."

Belinelli led the Bulls with 22 points. Robinson added 18 points, Jimmy Butler scored 17. Noah had 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Carlos Boozer contributed 14 points and 13 boards.

The Bulls compounded their lack of depth by getting into foul trouble. Gibson picked up his fifth foul in the final minute of the third quarter, and Boozer was already on the bench with four fouls.

Gibson fouled out with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, and Boozer got his sixth with 32 seconds remaining.

Brooklyn led 81-73 with 8:48 left when former Bulls guard C.J. Watson knocked down a 3-pointer. Chicago tightened up its defense and closed within 85-83 on a Robinson jumper with 4:37 remaining.

The teams traded baskets until Williams hit one of two free throws with 2:36 left to put Brooklyn ahead 90-85. The Bulls responded with a Belinelli 3-pointer to close to two points. Blatche hit a fadeaway, Robinson drained a pull-up jumper, and the Bulls had a chance to tie after Blatche's shot was blocked by Noah.

Robinson drove to the basket. With defenders charging and bodies flying, his shot appeared to be blocked, and a loose-ball foul was called on the Bulls during the rebound battle.

Blatche converted one of two at the line to make it 93-90 with 32 seconds left. Chicago's Nazr Mohammed finished a lay-in off a pass from Noah to cut the gap to one with 25.2 seconds to go.

Neither team played much defense in the first half, with Brooklyn shooting 65 percent from the field in the first quarter and 55.8 percent for the half. The Nets went into halftime with a 60-54 lead, then scored just 35 points in the second half.

Brooklyn wound up making 43 percent of its shots on the night, while Chicago made 40.4 percent.

Noah was positive about heading back on the road for a must-win Game 7.

"I'm ready to play. I want to go play right now," he said. "We're a team of fighters. We keep getting punched in the face, but we fight back. I'm proud of this team, and we're going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we're going to win."

NOTES: Evans missed practice Wednesday with an illness but was in the Nets' starting lineup. ... Hinrich missed his second straight game with a left calf bruise. Robinson started in his place. ... Johnson said Wednesday that he probably wouldn't be playing if it were the regular season because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. ... The Bulls are 13-1 all time in playoff series when they led 3-2. The lone loss was to Golden State in the 1975 Western Conference finals. ... Lopez scored at least 20 points in each of the first five games of the series, becoming the first Bulls playoff opponent to do so since Patrick Ewing in the 1996 second round.
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