May 12, 2011, 4:16 PM EDT
For a Bulls team one win away from going to the conference finals, there seems to be a lot of questions.
Not about their defense — we know they can lock it down on that end. But about their ability to score on a good defense. About how far Derrick Rose can carry their offense on his back. The Bulls on paper should have steamrolled Indiana and now Atlanta, yet they have been pushed in both series. Are the Bulls as good as we thought?
They can go a ways toward answering that question with a win over Atlanta on the road Thursday night — a closeout game that will be the Bulls toughest test this season.
The Hawks can make this a lot tougher by just trusting in point guard Jeff Teague — he led their comeback in Game 5 in Chicago, only to have the ball taken out of his hands by the Hawks veterans late. And that didn’t end well. The Hawks cannot settle for isolation jumpers, they need the penetration and shot creation Teague brings.
I remember at Summer League a Hawks assistant coach telling me they were begging Teague to be more aggressive, to be the guy he finally has become in this series. Now that they have that Teague, they need to trust him.
Teague is not alone, Jamal Crawford needs to create the offense for the Hawks. Together they create for themselves and others, and the whole offense flows better. The passing version of Josh Smith, the one that also attacks the rim also needs to show up.
For the Bulls, they won the last game with their bench — at the end it was Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah sat. It really doesn’t matter what the combo of that group is, the Bulls need to get production from someone other than Rose. You know Rose gets the gravity of the situation tonight and look for him to try to do more, to start out hot, but the Hawks will make someone else beat them. Luol Deng, Boozer, Gibson, Kyle Korver — some one needs to step up.
The Bulls should win this game. They should answer the questions. But the Bulls have been a long way from what they should do in these playoffs, so the questions still hang in the air.
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