Now that’s the Chicago defense we know and love.
The Bulls held the Hawks to 73 points on 33.8 percent shooting and forced them t miss 10 of their 13 three-point attempts. Atlanta finished with a miserable Effective Field Goal Percentage of 35.7 and an Offensive Efficiency of only 81.1 (as in points per 100 possessions).
The Hawks missed 11 of their 23 field goal attempts at the rim and went a nightmare-inducing 6-for-30 from 16-23 feet. They were as cold last night as they were hot in Game 1. Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.
Chicago’s D did a number on Josh Smith (4-for-14), Al Horford (3-for-12 and zero free throw attempts), Jamal Crawford (2-for-10) and Marvin Williams (2-for-9). Moreover, the Bulls contained Joe Johnson, who finished with 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting and made only one trip to the foul line. And, outside of Crawford, the Atlanta bench managed only 2 points.
The Bulls outrebounded the Hawks 58-39 and had an 18-10 advantage in second-chance points.
Chicago’s defense was so dominant that it makes me wonder…
…why wasn’t this a blowout?
It could have been. It probably should have been. But the Bulls never led by more than 14 points and couldn’t pull away from a Hawks team that couldn’t have found the basket even with CIA assistance.
So what happened?
A lot of little things that added up. The Bulls shot poorly — 39.3 percent from the field and 5-for-22 from beyond the arc as a team — with Derrick Rose (10-for-27 and 1-for-8 on threes) leading the brick parade. Carlos Boozer was 4-for-12 and had four layup attempts stuffed (although it felt like twice as many). The bench, “led” by Kyle Korver’s 1-for-9 performance, combined to go 5-for-20.
Thank the Basketball Gods for Joakim Noah (6-for-8 from the field and 7-for-8 from the line) and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — Keith Bogans (2-for-4 from downtown).
The Bulls were also careless with the rock. No one more so than D-Rose, though, who committed 8 of Chicago’s 14 turnovers.
Noah was the hero of the night, scoring 19 points to go with 14 rebounds, including 7 big-time offensive boards. Jo also had three steals and countless hustle plays. There was no question he felt a sense of urgency. Still…Noah twice gave up three-point plays by swiping at an Atlanta player who was about to make an easy layup. The second time Noah did that — fouling Smith with 4:56 remaining — allowed the Hawks to pull to within six points (75-69).
That was the kind of night it was. It seemed that for every two positive players, somebody on the team made a negative one. Yes, the Bulls won by double-digits. No, it did not feel like a commanding victory even though it probably should have been.
Rose continues to shoot poorly and take too many three-pointers. It’s obvious to anyone who has followed Rose this season that his sprained ankle is holding him back. He earned only six free throw attempts, and two of those came with six seconds left and the outcome decided. Derrick converted four of his six shot attempts at the rim, but he’s not exploding to the basket the way he did during the regular season. Nor does he look anxious at this point to test the ankle by drawing contact.
As for Boozer, he’s barely a shadow of he 20-10 guy the Bulls thought they were getting last summer. He’s been in a slump since after the All-Star break and admits that the turf toe is affecting him “a lot.”
The spacing on offense continues to be poor unless Korver is on the floor, which explains why he had a plus-minus score of +11 despite going 1-for-9. Conversely, when Kyle’s not in the game, the Bulls always seem to be driving or passing into a crowd. That’s a major part of why Rose had so many turnovers and Boozer can’t get much going down low. The Hawks — like the Pacers before them — are crowding in or around the paint, cutting off passing angles and limiting the amount of space the Bulls have to work with.
Chicago’s offensive efficiency was only 95.6, not at all impressive, and it would have been worse if they hadn’t managed an Offensive Rebounding Rate of 32.6.
The Bulls can certainly win one or two games in Atlanta if they continue defending like they did last night. But they could also drop both of them if they don’t sort out their offensive problems.
Can they do that? If so, they’ll need Rose to draw more fouls, exercise some restraint when standing outside the three-point arc and take much better care of the basketball. The Bulls need to space the floor better — more Korver anyone? — and everybody needs to improve their sloppy handles. Whether it’s been the Pacers or Hawks, the team’s turnovers keep giving their opponents life. That has got to stop.
Oh, and could somebody, anybody, do something about Jeff Teague (21 points, 7-for-14, 6-for-7 from the line, zero turnovers)? Teague is playing so well that the Bulls are praying for Kirk Hinrich to miraculously heal overnight.
Overall, I liked the effort and sense of urgency the team displayed. They didn’t get caught flat-footed the way they did in Game 1. But until they start scoring with better efficiency, they’re vulnerable.
Quote of the Night:
Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins on Rose after Rose said his ankle was “fine”: “Derrick Rose deserves so much credit. He’s injured. I know what he says, but the fact is he’s injured. But when you’re the best player on the team, you play, period. Something about the playoffs enables you to overcome the injuries. More important than that, it’s your job. If you’re ‘The Guy’ you cannot let your teammates see you sweat. You can’t afford to let them see a cloud hanging over you. You can’t let the fans down. The pressure is a beast. And if Derrick doesn’t score big, they can’t win. I know people will look at the stats and say, ‘Well, that’s a sub-par night.’ Look, I played playoff games with an ankle so badly sprained I had to wear a boot over my sock. I played playoff games with three fractured fingers. The Game 7 in Boston against Bird? Had a dislocated thumb. Look at it; still can’t straighten it out. It doesn’t matter that he was 10-for-27 or had turnovers or that Jeff Teague played him really, really well, which he did. What mattered is Rose’s presence.”