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NBA Playoffs: Bulls shut down Hawks in the fourth

May 10, 2011, 11:34 PM EDT

Al Horford, Derrick Rose, Marvin Williams

The Atlanta Hawks gave the Bulls all they could handle for the first three quarters of Game 5. They had a surprising amount of success moving the ball against Chicago’s top-ranked defense, penetrating at will and scoring tough baskets under the rim. They continued to make the league MVP work for everything he got — Rose finished with 33 points and 9 assists while only making two jump shots, but he had surprisingly few easy layups against Atlanta’s defense. But in the end, the team with the best regular-season record in the league and the league MVP was able to overwhelm the Hawks in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls came away with a 95-83 victory and a 3-2 series lead. 

The big worry for Chicago in this game going forward was the ineffectiveness of their starting frontcourt — Joakim Noah was held scoreless, finished with only one offensive rebound, and was benched in the decisive fourth quarter for Omer Asik. Carlos Boozer‘s playoff struggles continued — Boozer was active on the glass and put in a few mid-range jumpers, but he missed a ton of the “ugly baskets” between the free throw line and the rim that are usually his bread-and-butter, and he was benched in the fourth for Taj Gibson, who gave the Bulls a critical boost by scoring 11 points on 5-5 shooting in the fourth quarter.

The ineffectiveness of Noah and Boozer and Atlanta’s revelatory ball movement, and the spectacular play of Jeff Teague gave the Hawks a chance to steal home-court advantage and put the Bulls on the brink of elimination, but they failed to do the two things any team must do to have a chance against the Bulls: make shots from the outside and keep Derrick Rose away from the rim.

Atlanta couldn’t buy a jump shot all night long. They shot only 1-12 from beyond the three-point line, and Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 7-24 from the field. Even with Jeff Teague flying into the paint at will and making every crazy floater he threw up, Chicago’s defense is too good to be broken without getting a few outside shots to fall.

Then there was Derrick Rose. As I mentioned, Rose only made two jump shots in Game 5, but the Bulls had no answer for his relentless drives to the rim. Rose put on an MVP performance, slithering through traps, absorbing contact, getting himself to the line, finding teammates when the Hawks were forced to collapse three or four defenders on him, and he was consistently able to sneak through the tiniest possible slivers of space for layups. Eventually, the Hawks simply succumbed to the pressure Rose put on their defense, and now they find themselves having to win two games in a row to avoid elimination.

The Bulls haven’t looked like juggernauts over the first two rounds, but they still do some things as well as any team in the league, and are just as much of a threat to come out of the East as they were at the beginning of the playoffs. Their deep bench gives them contingency plans when guys like Noah and Boozer have off nights. Rose can dominate a game without needing his outside shot to be on. The Bulls’ defense guarantees that any team who wants to get past them will have to be able to win an absolute war. The Bulls aren’t perfect, or close to it, but they’re gamers to the core, and that makes them just as dangerous as any team still alive in these playoffs.

  1. cordae - May 10, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    Gibson>>>>>>>>>>Booooooozer.

    We know who really deserves that 80mil…

  2. mondzy805 - May 10, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    The Bulls won this game because of defense. Mainly from three bench players. This Bulls team is 10 deep and plays the best team defense, left in the playoffs.

    • florida727 - May 11, 2011 at 1:09 PM

      Do you think they can shut down the Heat (assuming they finish off ATL)?

      • chitownmatt - May 11, 2011 at 2:31 PM

        If the regular season games they played are any indication, then YES.
        Bulls in SIX.

    • cordae - May 11, 2011 at 5:11 PM

      Completely different ball game, never count the regular season, do you NOT see where Boston is? I’m not saying the Heat will win, I’m saying I honestly dont know. These are two of the top THREE defenses in the league, its gonna be a dogfight. I think Chicago will play better team defense, and Miami will be better individual defenders. They both have advantages on one another, Chicago’s bench (clearly) and Miami having two offensive powerhouses to Chicagos one. Both have players that need to step up, and if they do, could be game changers. Bosh, obviously, and for Chicago to me its between Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. I know I say a lot about the paint at times but that three of Korvers can be deadly. If Miami knows whats good for them, they’ll keep an eye on him. I just like Brewers energy lol

      I really couldn’t call this…

  3. dnbajunkie - May 11, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    There’s no perfect team, every team has its own weakness and strength. The Bulls won because they know how to capitalize on their strength, they showed this the whole season. They’re still in position to score an upset in the next round. Good Luck to all the remaining teams!! Make this playoffs a very interesting one.

    • chitownmatt - May 11, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      Upset?

  4. gmsingh - May 11, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    The article has one thing wrong: the Hawks were neck and neck with the Bulls for quarters 2 and 3–the Bulls were clearly dominating in the 1st. Then, in the 4th, when the defense finally decided to clamp down, the Hawks looked completely beaten running up and down the court. I sure as heck can’t wait to see if they can do the same thing to the Heat.

  5. philtration - May 11, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    I have been wanting Gibson and Asik to get extended minutes together all year and they showed why.
    They do not just play hang around the basket defense and they will come all the way out to the 3 point line to contest a shot. Atlanta was getting nothing in the paint once Thibodeau made the change

  6. chitownmatt - May 11, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    The Bulls are the deepest team remaining in the tournament right now.
    Everybody talks about the Bulls’ bench, but the reality is that it ain’t no bench at all… Gibson, Asik, Korver and Brewer are all guys that are ready to play 48 on any given night.
    The Bulls dont have a “great bench.” the Bulls have nine starters.

    • philtration - May 11, 2011 at 9:46 PM

      I agree and that is why they won 62 games this season.
      They have had so many different players step up and play extended minutes and play well that their line up in interchangeable.
      Kurt Thomas did such a great job when Noah and Boozer were out and he is just waiting in the wings for the moment that he is needed.

      If they do beat Atlanta then they can wear out either Miami or Boston in a series.
      Boston because they are much older and Miami because they have to play their starters all the time.

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