By John Carroll
The Atlanta Hawks came into the United Center on Monday night and beat the Chicago Bulls 103-95. In doing so they not only took home court advantage away from the Bulls, but sent a loud message to the Bulls and the NBA that they are for real. The Hawks have flipped a switch during the playoffs and gotten away from the up and down team they were in the regular season. They were swept 4-0 in the second round of the playoffs last year and vowed as a team to change their ways. The Hawks were able to beat the Bulls because they exploited favorable matchups, they used their length and athleticism on the perimeter and they knocked down shot after shot. Atlanta defended at a playoff level, and worked hard on the glass.
The Bulls have superior depth and talent compared to the Bulls but they played very uninspired basketball in Game 1. They did not play with the urgency or intensity to win a playoff game. Chicago had a hard time scoring and defending early in the game and they played with low energy. Derrick Rose played a subpar game scoring 24 points on 11-27 from the field. He was not able to dominate the point guard matchup versus Jeff Teague, and that set the tone for the entire game.
Game 2 Adjustments
The Bulls must have a much improved defensive effort to knot this series at 1-1. They were 39-5 at home this year because of their defense. Their poor effort defensively allowed the Hawks to start the game on a 9-0 run, and it also allowed them to begin the all important fourth quarter on a 15-4 run. Their lack of defense allowed the Hawks to shoot 51% from the field and 54% from the 3 point line. It is extremely dangerous to let the Hawks build a lead. They feed off of their offense, and they build confidence. They are a tough team to slow down once they get going. Chicago was poor in every important phase of defense in Game 1. They must apply ball pressure early in Game 2, they must play much better help defense and they must do a much better job of contesting shots. They must work harder once the shot goes up and get the 50-50 loose balls. If they allow Atlanta to come out in Game 2 and establish the tempo of the game, and let them get into an offensive rhythm they will be in deep trouble.
Derrick Rose wasted an opportunity in the first half of last night’s game to put his imprint on this series. He needs to send a message to Jeff Teague, Larry Drew, and the rest of the Atlanta Hawks that you cannot contain me. Jeff Teague the replacement starter for Kirk Hinrich stepped up to the challenge of guarding Rose. He hounded Rose into 2-10 shooting in the first half, he ran the Hawks offense. Teague scored 10 points, and dished out 5 assists while only turning it over 1 time. Kirk Hinrich is the Hawks best perimeter defender and Rose and the Bulls were not able to take advantage of his absence. Derrick Rose needs to step up in Game 2, like the MVP player that he really is. He needs to defend and harass Teague and make his life miserable. He needs to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. He needs to dominate the point guard matchup from the start to the finish of Game 2.
The two statistics that are telling about the problems of the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 were the rebounding numbers and free throw attempts. The Bulls are an aggressive rebounding team. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Loul Deng, Taj Gibson are all aggressive rebounders both on the defensive and offensive ends. They Bulls were outrebounded in Game 1 (38-37) by the Atlanta Hawks. Noah who averaged 3.8 offensive rebounds per game only had 1. Boozer and Taj Gibson also need to pound the glass in Game 2. The Bulls only got to the free throw line 16 times in Game 1 and Derrick Rose did not attempt a free throw. That is the ultimate sign that something was very wrong with Rose and the Bulls. Rose lived at the free throw line in the first round series with the Pacers. Rose, Boozer, Deng and Noah must get to the free throw line in Game 2 by being aggressive and active. The Bulls must improve on these two statistical areas if they want to win this series.
Somehow, someway Carlos Boozer must play better for the Bulls to win this series. Boozer who is suffering from turf toe was okay in Game 1, but he has been subpar in the playoffs. Boozer averaged 17.5 ppg on 51 fg% during the regular season. Currently he is averaging only 10.7ppg on 39 fg% in the Bulls six playoff games. He scored 14 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in Game 1 but the Bulls need more. Tom Thibodeau got him 9 early touches in the first quarter to get him going. Boozer needs to be the aggressive low post player he has always been and attack the basket with strong offensive moves to help his team win this series.
Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford must continue to play at a very efficient level in order for the Hawks to win. The Bulls do not have one natural lock down wing defender. They must defend these two studs with their team defense. The two perimeter players combined for 56 points in Monday nights win. They shot an amazingly efficient 55% (20-36) from the field. Everyone in the building knows that those two perimeter players are going to get the bulk of the Hawks field goal attempts. Yet they continue to find ways to make shot after shot. They must continue to work hard to get the ball in locations where the Bulls defense cannot load up on them. If they can get high percentage shots and continue to make them at a very efficient level they are going to put a lot of pressure on Chicago.
Prediction: Chicago wins Game 2