Worm turns 36 in style, as Bulls turn away Hawks


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After dunking in Dikembe Mutombo's face, Michael Jordan gives him a bit of his own medicine.
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Jordan elevates over two Hawks defenders for an easy pair.
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The question might be: What didn't Dennis Rodman do Tuesday night?
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After Tuesday's win Phil Jackson sounds more like Rodman's agent than his coach. (Courtesy: NBA/TNT Sports)
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Jordan feels like Rodman is finally coming out of his shell.
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Jordan explains the importance of Chicago's bench.
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Lenny Wilkens considers the Hawks' season a successful one.
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Box score | Game recap | Game flow

CHICAGO -- The Dennis Rodman of old has returned.

Dennis Rodman celebrates his 3-pointer that sparked a Bulls' run in the second quarter.

Celebrating his 36th birthday, Rodman turned in his first inspired performance of the postseason and help energize the Chicago Bulls into the Eastern Conference finals with a 107-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.

Rodman was all over the floor, swishing two 3-pointers, rebounding with abandon, blocking shots and making no-look passes. By the time his customary ejection came with 2:44 remaining, the Worm had snapped his playoff funk with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Not a bad birthday present for the guy who helped Chicago dominate last year's playoffs but had been a virtual non-factor this postseason.

"Dennis Rodman was tremendous, was really the impetus that got us going. His energy was terrific," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "He played very intense without the urge that retaliates and gets him in trouble."

Return of the Worm: When Dennis Rodman plays with the energy he displayed Tuesday, the Bulls are very tough to beat. His 12 points and nine rebounds prove he's rounding into playoff form. The Bulls will need his physical presence against either the Knicks or Heat in the conference finals.

Bench mark: The thin Hawks played only two reserves and got only six points and one rebound off the bench. The Bulls, as they did all series long, relied on their depth by getting 49 points and 22 boards from the non-starters. The difference in the teams' reserve tanks was perhaps the biggest difference in the series.

Cleaning the glass: The Bulls had six players grab five or more rebounds, as they held a 54-30 edge on the glass. That dominance allowed Chicago to shoot only 42 percent from the field, yet still handily defeat a team that hit 49 percent of its shots.

"Dennis brings a lot of energy to the game, and sometimes it's uncontrollable," added Bulls star Michael Jordan, who scored 24 points to help the defending NBA champions close out the Hawks 4-1 with three consecutive victories.

Rodman, who had drawn the ire of Jordan and Scottie Pippen earlier in the series because of foul trouble and extracurricular activity, came off the bench to spark the Bulls in the first half, then helped hold off a Hawks rally in the final period.

The Worm avoided his entanglements with the referees or opposing players until late in the fourth quarter, when he again tangled with Atlanta center Dikembe Mutombo and was ejected for the third time in eight playoff games.

"That was a mis-call by (referee) Ken Mauer," Jackson said. "Mutombo was the one making gestures and using his voice. Mauer just assumed it was Dennis. That was his reputation."

Said Rodman, "It was evident that I was able to go out there and not get whistled on every play. It was fun for a change. I guess in the fourth quarter they finally got tired of me."

Mutombo had a different version of the scuffle, however.

"The rest of the world is saying the league is punishing him. He's just punishing himself," said Mutombo, who was scoreless in the fourth quarter. "I am a man. I need to stand my ground and believe in myself. I'm not going to be the guy Dennis Rodman tries to embarrass.

"I say, 'You no mess with me.' He used to mess with some soft guys who let him do whatever he wants to do. The guy is just not normal. I don't think he's as big a factor as he used to be."

By that time, however, the game already was decided, and Rodman peeled off his jersey and tossed it into the crowd to a standing ovation.

After averaging 17 minutes, one point and four rebounds in the first four games of the series, the flamboyant six-time NBA rebounding leader logged 33 productive minutes Tuesday.

The Bulls are in the conference finals for the seventh time in the last nine years and await the winner of the New York-Miami semifinal series, which the Knicks lead 3-1.

Christian Laettner scored 23 points, and Mookie Blaylock added 20 for Atlanta, which lost in the second round for the second consecutive year.

Michael Jordan hammers it down on Dikembe Mutombo.

Jordan set the early tone when he dunked over Mutombo 3:27 into the game and received a technical for wagging his finger at Mutombo, who has made finger-wagging after blocking shots his signature. While the crowd loved Jordan's bravado, the technical free throw began a 17-8 run that gave Atlanta a 20-18 lead.

But Chicago blew things open late in the second quarter, and Rodman was the surprising offensive catalyst.

His 3-pointer gave Chicago a 24-20 lead, and he followed with a 21-footer and a foul-line jumper to put the Bulls up 31-23.

Early in the second quarter, his two-hand, backward, over-the-head pass found an open Brian Williams, who dunked, was fouled and completed the three-point play. Rodman added another 3-pointer with 2:12 left in the half, sending the crowd into a frenzy and giving the Bulls a 55-35 lead.

"He brought a lot of energy to the game," Jordan said, "and he shot 3-pointers better than me and Scottie."

Rodman also excelled on defense, blocking Mutombo's hook and drawing two charging fouls on Laettner.

As they had in Game 4, the Hawks rallied to make the Bulls work for the victory. Blaylock and Steve Smith hit consecutive 3-pointers as Atlanta pulled to 84-77 with 9½ minutes to play.

But Rodman made the first two of seven consecutive Chicago free throws, and the game had little excitement until Rodman and Mutombo clashed after a missed Atlanta shot. A double technical foul was called, and Rodman quickly picked up a second when he launched a stream of expletives at Mutombo.

"This is the best we've played for a long stretch of time," Jordan said. "We have to continue to improve going against New York or Miami. Defensively, they are very intense. But we seem to be getting ourselves into a groove."

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