May 13, 2011, 12:01 AM EDT
Chicago’s Game 6 dominance was in no way a surprise. Though Atlanta has played effective basketball at various points during this series, games like this one fall in line with the initial assessments of the Bulls’ superiority.
The Hawks exceeded most projections of their playoff performance, but their postseason success didn’t change the fact that the Bulls were, and are still, the better team. Their defense is more reliable. Their offensive execution is more consistent, even if the end product is flawed. They had the best players in this series on both sides of the floor, the better bench, and the superior coach. The Bulls were going to win this series because, ultimately, they’re the Bulls. Call that oversimplified analysis if you will, but being the considerably superior outfit is typically enough to win a playoff series, even if Atlanta figured things out for a game or two and a half.
The Bulls we saw on Thursday night were the fully functioning model, geared to bother the hell out of the opponent’s offense and skilled in doing so. Atlanta posted an effective field-goal percentage of just 37.2 percent, a commendable mark even against an opponent known for their troublesome tendency to settle for contested jump shots. It’s common NBA rhetoric to say that an offense “got whatever looks it wanted,” but in this case, Chicago’s defense consistently forced Atlanta into whatever looks that it wanted. Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah dictated the outcome of this game with their ball pressure, and the Hawks’ 14.2 turnover rate only stands as further evidence of the Bulls’ ability to cause trouble on D.
Offensively, Chicago had it easy. That tends to be the case when Carlos Boozer is working to find open space and — even more importantly — actually hitting a shot or two. Boozer hasn’t had the most impressive playoff run thus far, but he’s absolutely essential to Chicago’s success going forward. Atlanta and Indiana put up a fight, but neither is even close to Miami in terms of two-way efficacy.
The Heat defense is going to test the Bulls’ offense in ways it hasn’t even seen this postseason, and Boozer will have to keep working and finishing if the Eastern Conference finals are to be anything other than the end of the line for the Bulls. It’s odd that Chicago’s second-best offensive player has become something of an X-factor in these playoffs (an impact player with the potential to come and go, but hardly stable), but that inconsistency has historically been a part of Boozer’s postseason game. Deng, Noah, and the Bulls reserves may be able to compensate for Boozer’s lack of production on his less effective nights, but performances of this ilk are what the Bulls will need almost every night out against the Heat.
Jeff Teague did an incredible job of taking over the point guard responsibilities for the Hawks on a moment’s notice, and in spite of the fact that coach Larry Drew had consistently chosen to keep Teague on the bench over the course of the regular season. His success came on a borrowed opportunity, but Teague’s scoring was brilliant and his playmaking promising. Atlanta doesn’t have much hope for internal improvement, but Teague does provide a lone bit of hope.
I won’t miss these Hawks, and you shouldn’t either. There won’t be some summer night where we collectively long for a Joe Johnson iso or a Josh Smith ill-advised 3-point attempt. This team was confounding and irritating, and it’s never pleasant to see skilled players conquered so often by their own vices.
We should all miss the Hawks of Games 1 and 4 though, that brilliantly talented and athletic club that would show up from time to time. They’re capable of running a prolific offense and a versatile defense, and harness the power of an interesting, dynamic group — from Johnson to Teague to Smith to Horford — in concert rather than as a solo performance from a self-ordained virtuoso.
Either way, we bid farewell to both the good Hawks and bad, and greet what’s sure to be a phenomenal Eastern Conference finals series with open arms.
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