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NBA Playoffs: Bulls get back to basics, even up series against Hawks

May 5, 2011, 1:00 AM EDT

Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls - Game Two Getty Images

If Game 1 between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks was an aberration — after all, the Hawks converted tough jumpers at an extremely high rate, and rode the high of those makes into a well-executed defense and an improbable victory — then Game 2 was oddly typical.

The Bulls are no strangers to offensive inefficiency, and on those nights when Derrick Rose struggles to keep his turnovers down or his field goal percentage up, Chicago still holds the means to gut out ugly wins. For all of Rose’s strengths, the Bulls didn’t climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings due only to the brilliance of his drives or his ability to set up his teammates; Chicago won a gaudy number of games by leading the NBA in effective field goal percentage allowed and dominating the boards on both ends of the court. The Bulls are as active and bothersome as any team in the league on the defensive end, and though Game 2 began with the MVP trophy being presented to Rose in front of his home crowd, it ended with the Bulls taking care of business in a manner that only included Rose as one valuable part of a successful team-wide effort.

The Bulls were back to their dominant ways on the glass, as they grabbed 32.6 percent of the available offensive boards while limiting the Hawks to a far lower mark on the other end. Joakim Noah — who had seven offensive rebounds and 14 boards overall to go along with his 15 points — was the star in that effort, but Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng grabbed a combined 19 defensive rebounds to prevent the misfiring Hawks from securing any extra opportunities.

Atlanta’s shot selection finally came back to bite them, and without a superior rebounding performance like the one they had in Game 1, the Hawks had no means to score reliably. Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith made some particularly questionable decisions, but the less prolific output from Joe Johnson (who finished with 16 points, just a few shy of his 34-point outburst from Game 1) was just as damaging to Atlanta’s cause. The Bulls didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but the Hawks still had trouble keeping pace, and scored at a rate of just 83 points per 100 possessions. That mark is atrocious, but was an inevitable result of Atlanta’s desire to shoot contested jumpers and live with the consequences.

The problems of Atlanta’s offense were due to no explicit fault of Jeff Teague‘s, as the emergency point guard dropped a team-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. That said, Teague’s limitations did come into play; Johnson and Crawford initiated much of Atlanta’s offense, and while that strategic decision minimized Teague’s turnovers (he didn’t commit a single TO in Game 2, after giving the ball away just once in Game 1), it put a lot of pressure on Atlanta’s ball-handling wings to create a stable offense. That’s possible when all of the Hawks’ jumpers are falling, but once the defensive pressure increases and the exasperation sets in, the Hawks sometimes stymie their own offense at the point of attack. To a degree, it becomes less about what the Bulls are doing defensively and more about what the Hawks aren’t doing offensively. The ball movement becomes unproductive, the cuts and curls are mere tokens, the effort to really run a legitimate offense is subpar. These are the realities of the typical Atlanta Hawks, and even though Teague is doing an admirable job of filling in for Kirk Hinrich, the absence of the Hawks’ true starting point guard has stifled their already stiflable offense considerably. Things were going to be tough for Atlanta to maintain their offensive production even with Hinrich in the lineup (as-was?), but now this team seems capable of little more on the offensive end than splashes of hot shooting and benefiting from their occasional good fortune. It’s not easy for any team to execute against Chicago’s defense, but Atlanta doesn’t make it any easier on themselves, either.

Game 2 fell more in line with series expectation, though it’s likely that Chicago’s offense will improve from here through schematic means; we already saw a foundation for improvement with an increase in side screen-and-roll action, a fairly effective counter to the defensive pressure that had kept Rose from getting to the basket in Game 1. If the Bulls continue to work those side angles and implement more variety into their pick-and-roll attack while spacing the floor well, they’ll create more opportunities for Rose to charge toward the rim with a full head of steam or use his active dribble to create new passing lanes. Atlanta, on the other hand, is still too reliant on the bounce of the ball, not to mention the often questionable decision-making ability of its high-usage players. Johnson, Crawford, and Smith are often too willing to take a poorly chosen shot or stop the ball with isolation play, and though on their best days those three are a sight to behold, the norm is something a bit less fantastic. It’s 4-of-14 shooting for Smith with four turnovers. It’s 2-of-10 shooting from Crawford and a -9 plus-minus for the game, the single lowest for any player on either team. It’s dreadfully low scoring efficiency in what could have been a very winnable contest.

This is the result of a game in which the Hawks are the Hawks and the Bulls are the Bulls. If Atlanta wants to win a few more games and make this a series, they had better start working toward a few more aberrations.

  1. dvic13 - May 5, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    Love seeing Josh Smith wide open for a long jump shot. Takes it and misses every time.

    • bigkurt6 - May 5, 2011 at 10:02 PM

      lol hell yea, reminds me of a guy i used to remember…. who was that??? Tyrus Thomas???

  2. chitownbulls - May 5, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    Wow, Derrick tossed up 27 shots… Probably forcing the issue because of all of Korver and Boozer’s misses. What will get lost in this though is how nice his passing was tonight (I can’t believe he had 8 turnovers), if Korver and Booz had made 1/2 of what they missed he would have had 15-17 assists… Hopefully he will find his stroke in ATL. The driving lanes will oen for him when they have to come out and guard him.

  3. gmsingh - May 5, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    The rumors of the Bulls’ demise were greatly exaggerated. Maybe next game they can keep the Hawks points total to under 70.

  4. winstonhussein - May 5, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    What’s missing here is the Hawks played like crap and were still in the game late. This isn’t the same team that failed to show up for the last half of the season, they played hard and refused to give up. We’ve stolen home court advantage and now have a chance to win two in a row at home. Of course, if my mouth was tightly wrapped around the no-no zone of the league MVP, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take a moment and think outside of the ESPN box either.

    • philtration - May 5, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      If Korver hits half of those wide open shots like he did all year then the Bulls win this game by 25.
      Of course the Hawks were cheated because the Bulls have the MVP of the league and the Hawks do not so the logical thing to do is whine and cry about it and just maybe someone will fell sorry enough for them so they can hand them a couple of games.
      It sounds a lot like the Knick’s fans who used to cry “If you take Jordan off the Bulls then we win this game”
      Maybe you can blame the mean old officials for letting the Bulls defense shut down Johnson and Crawford.

      Loser talk.

      • winstonhussein - May 5, 2011 at 3:48 PM

        I’m guessing you were responding to something someone else wrote, which is your right, but as far as my post goes, did I say anything about anybody being cheated? Did I blame a single ref anywhere in my comment? I don’t know much about the education system in Chicago, but here in Atlanta, it sucks and we can still read.
        What I was saying is it’s all the Bulls not making the shots but the Hawks keep throwing up bricks (which is true). When does our D get some credit? Of course you have the MVP, congratulations, I wish our organization made great personnel moves like yours did. Marvin Williams at #3? That still burns. I’m not asking anyone to “fell” sorry for us, I’m saying respect the team that has kept one of the greatest players in the game to such pedestrian numbers.
        What really burns is you comparing us to those “if we can’t buy the championship, then nobody can” Yankee fans.
        Also, since we’re playing the “If Game,” IF we had a FIRE zone like they did on NBA Jam, the Hawks would have won by a million, and that’s just statistics.

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