ATLANTA – They say bad habits from the regular season carry over, and apparently that’s true. For instance, just because it’s the playoffs doesn’t mean the Hawks have stopped mailing in games.
In a season full of baffling home blowouts, the Hawks added another to the list in a 99-82 loss to Chicago in Game 3. It was the eighth time this season Atlanta lost at Philips Arena by 15 points or more, falling behind almost immediately as Derrick Rose eviscerated them for 44 points. The Bulls lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday.
While Rose’s brilliance meant Atlanta was unlikely to win this game no matter what they did, the Hawks felt the lopsided nature of the defeat was more a result of apathy than execution or Xs and Os. Few in the audience disagreed.
The turning point? How about the 49-second mark. Hawks coach Larry Drew called as early a timeout as you’ll ever see after two easy baskets gave the Bulls a 4-0 lead. What set him off was an easy transition lay-up for Rose after a defensive board, a bucket that opened the floodgates on his career-high performance.
“I saw an energy level that, right away, I knew we were in trouble,” said Drew. “When you play an explosive guard like Derrick Rose, you have to make a commitment to getting back and making sure you try to keep him out of the paint. He’s too fast and too explosive.”
“I saw right then and there my team had not made the commitment we made in Game 1. We know he’s so good and explosive that he can get in there. But when I don’t see the effort on getting back in transition, not getting there and allowing them to get to the basket without a contest, I knew that we were not committed like we were in Games 1 and 2.”
The only energy in the arena, in fact, came from the Bulls fans chanting “MVP” after most of Rose’s 16 field goals. For the third time this season, the arena had a heavy sprinkling of Bulls fans, adding insult to injury as Atlanta’s “home” crowd cheered its demise.
And it should be noted that Rose foiled the Hawks even when their efforts were up to snuff. The most crucial instance was coming out of a timeout after the Hawks had cut the Bulls’ lead to 11 points early in the fourth quarter. On Chicago’s possession, Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford played great denial defense to eliminate a play the Bulls had diagrammed for Kyle Korver. No matter; Rose improvised and hit a difficult shot on the other side of the floor to end the Atlanta rally.
“That’s frustrating, for sure,” said Crawford. “Plays like that kind of stick the needle in the balloon, because you’re fighting so hard to get back and then he makes an incredible shot.”
There were subplots for Atlanta that were equally disheartening, however. While Rose was having his way on the perimeter, the Hawks were also getting destroyed on the glass. The Bulls had 18 offensive rebounds, nearly matching the Hawks’ total on the defensive glass (25); the board dominance gave Chicago a nine-possession edge.
“They completely beat us up,” said Drew. “My big guys didn’t show up tonight and I told them that at halftime. You have to play this team with energy, you have to match their physicality, you cannot complain to the officials, and you have to be ready to make it a war for 48 minutes. Tonight we did not do that.”
One option for Atlanta to deal with the board disparity is returning Jason Collins to the starting lineup, something Drew said he will consider based on what he finds when he watches the tape. That lineup has its own issues – scoring immediately becomes a concern, especially against the league’s top-ranked defense – but if it can stem the bleeding on the defensive end it might be worth it.
And obviously, having Kirk Hinrich would have helped. With Rose appearing back at full strength after struggling with ankle problems in the first two games, Teague’s general inexperience and his lack of size to contest Rose’s shot became much more glaring shortcomings.
Nonetheless, to a man the Hawks admitted that the greatest remedy is to simply play harder.
“It’s just disheartening to come out and start the game like that,” said Crawford.
It’s a sight the locals have witnessed far too often this year; as was the case with this game, usually right after they’d been sucked in by a recent burst of success. The glass-half-full approach is to say the Hawks weren’t winning this one anyway with Rose going off as he was, so perhaps it’s best to get it out of their system now.
But based on recent history, there’s little assurance the Philips Arena crowd won’t get an encore performance on Sunday.