Talk about a turnaround.
In Game 4, the Bulls were up 69-67 heading into the fourth quarter before getting outscored by 14 points in the final frame of a disappointing loss.
Last night, Chicago led 69-68 and then outscored the Hawks 26-15 over the final 12 minutes, taking a 3-2 series lead in the process.
And how ’bout Tom Thibodeau’s fourth quarter lineup?
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng weren’t surprises. Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were.
That Frightful Five completely shut down Atlanta’s offense — the Hawks went 5-for-16 in the fourth quarter — and Thibs wisely stuck with them. Their defense was stifling. Seriously, Atlanta couldn’t get anything going. It was a defensive clinic. Here are some of the best sequences:
With 10:45 left in the fourth, Gibson blocked Joe Johnson’s layup. Al Horford pulled down the offensive board and got the ball to Jamal Crawford, who had to chuck up a three to try and beat the shot clock. He didn’t, turning the ball over to the Bulls.
That offensive fail was followed by a particularly ugly three possessions: Johnson missed from 26 feet, Crawford missed from 26 feet, Al Horford had his pass picked off by Brewer.
With 5:45 left, Johnson was isolating against Deng near the sideline. Lu had him blanketed and nearly stole the ball away before the rock went out of bounds off Johnson.
With 2:00 left, Johnson was again isolating, but looked into the jaws of the defense and launched a listless three-pointer that had no chance of going in. That was when I knew the Bulls had broken the Hawks’ spirits.
For this game at least.
Rose did his usual crunch-time work, scoring 11 points and dishing out 3 assists in the fourth. Somewhat surprisingly, especially to the Hawks, were the 11 fourth quarter points poured in by Gibson.
The Rise of Taj indeed.
Said Gibson: “I was thinking about getting Luol [Deng] open, getting Derrick [Rose] open. Defensive rebounding and playing solid defense. Offense is always going to come. I just wanted to come in and make solid plays. You never know. [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] would have probably subbed me for Joakim, Booze, Kyle.
“I just wanted to kind of give us a little leeway, try to tire, try to slow Josh [Smith] down a little bit, because you can’t stop anybody. You can only slow them down. The shots were just coming to me and I was just taking my looks and they were going down.”
Gibson was playing so well that Carlos Boozer didn’t mind watching events unfold from the bench. Booz was celebrating as hard as any reserve, and he was one of the first guys jumping up to congratulate his teammates during timeouts. I think that’s worth pointing out. Carlos takes his lumps from Bulls fans. But, by all indicates, he’s been an excellent teammate this season.
Said Boozer: “From the start of the fourth, all the way to the end, they switched plays, they got blocks, they got rebounds. Ronnie [Brewer] came in and got a couple big rebounds. Taj, Omer, everybody that was out there was doing a great job. And then on offense, you saw what happened. Taj got on fire and was hitting shots from everywhere. He was flying like a plane out there, got us hyped out there. And then D. Rose was D. Rose. He took the game over as usual, made great plays. Made big shots. Luol had a big game, monster game, made big plays. It was fun to watch, man. Just fun to watch the guys get down.”
Rose quieted he many critics of his shot volume — yes, Sir Charles, I’m looking at you — by scoring 33 points on 24 shots while dishing out 9 assists and compiling a game-high plus-minus score of +17. Deng (23 points, 7-for-7 from the line, +15) had another “quiet but quality” game. Keith Bogans drilled a trio of triples despite a sprained right ankle. And the bench was excellent in relief.
The Bulls finished with 15 fast break points and scored a total of 50 points in the paint. They scored 17 points off of only 11 Atlanta turnovers.
Chicago was once again lit up by Jeff Teague (21 points, 8-for-11, 7 assists) and, oddly enough, Zaza Pachulia (13 points on 5-for-6 shooting off the bench). But the defense made Joe Johnson look average (15 points on 6-for-15 shooting) and absolutely shut down Jamal Crawford (2 points, 1-for-9, -11).
Another key stat: The Hawks went 1-for-12 from downtown. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta is 10-for-40 from three-point range in its three losses during the series…and 11-for-24 in its two wins. Not exactly a smoking gun, I know, but shutting down a team’s three-point game is always a crucial factor for victory.
This was a nice, solid win. But it was hardly overpowering. The Bulls built a 15-point lead in the first quarter but the Hawks rallied to take a small lead in the third. Inspired play by Rose and the reserves bullied Atlanta down the stretch, but the team can play better. Especially on defense. Yes, the Hawks went 1-for-12 on threes, but they converted 56 percent of their two-pointers (33-for-59). Teague, in particular, got way too many easy layups. And, even though the Bulls put the defensive clamps on in the final 12 minutes, Atlanta was shooting 53 percent through three quarters.
That kind of defensive effort won’t win Game 6 in Atlanta.
Overall, I liked the team’s composure and the way they took care of business down the stretch. Of course, the Hawks looked spent at the end of the game. Remember: This group has a really thin bench. Horford, Johnson and Teague all played 40+ minutes and Smith logged 39. That contributed to Atlanta’s fourth quarter collapse. The Bulls won’t be able to count on that Thursday night, not on the road, with the home crowd riling the Hawks up.
What I’m saying is: Good effort…but the Bulls can play better. And they’re going to need to if they want to finish this series in six games.