Sunday, May 08, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 100 Chicago Bulls 88


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

ATL 88
1.136 51.9


I don't think it's a coincidence that, when the Atlanta Hawks scored on seven of eight offensive possessions between the 4:46 and 1:00 mark of the fourth quarter to transform a tie game into one they led by 11 points, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford never, save for the one scoreless possession, touched the ball inside the three-point line. Unlike Johnson and Crawford, Jeff Teague and Josh Smith and Al Horford each possess the skill and athleticism to attack the basket while simultaneously presenting the possibility of passing the ball to an open teammate should the opportunity arise. Johnson can accomplish the latter and Crawford the former but neither presents an unpredictable element to opposing defenses. Of course, Teague and Smith and Horford benefited from the attention Johnson* and Crawford drew from Chicago defenders who expected them to receive, hold, and shoot the ball so perhaps all those stagnant fourth quarters where the Hawks stubbornly struggled to score finally paid off with tonight's 33 point explosion.

*And the Hawks surely aren't tied without Johnson making 8 of 11 shots through the first three quarters, even though he gave back a few of those buckets at the defensive end.

The experience of Games 2 and 3 should caution any Hawks fan from expecting the Hawks to follow up with more of the successful same but not to enjoy performances as enjoyable as those in Games 1 and 4 would be foolish. It's because none among us know when the next good Hawks performance will appear or, at times, we wonder if the next good Hawks performance will appear that this competitive Conference Semifinal series seems a treat.

Which isn't to say that the Hawks played a perfect game. Josh Smith took six more jump shots. He made his first, and celebrated the fact, before missing the next five. Tellingly, none of the attempts came in the fourth quarter. The Hawks still look fifty-fifty at best to convert any given transition opportunity. Jamal Crawford remains an exploitable defender even for a mediocre offensive team having a difficult (Chicago's 25 point, 20 possession first quarter excluded) night. Carlos Boozer took advantage of extended minutes from Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia to contribute offensively for the first time since Game 1. The Bulls grabbed 29.3% of their possible offensive rebounds. Still, as in Game 1, the consistent, purposeful effort with which the team played superseded their flaws.

No Hawk exemplified that better than Smith. Despite the five (the sixth, excusably, came as the shot clock expired) possessions wasted with jumpers, Smith outplayed everyone else on the floor. Not just through his 23 points, 16 rebounds, and 8 assists but also with his defensive work on Luol Deng at the start of either half. If Deng had gotten the quality of look he's generally enjoyed when guarded by Marvin Williams in this series, Atlanta's imperfections might have been more damaging.

If Game 3 showed all that Derrick Rose could be, Game 4 showed all that the Bulls, at less than their best, can force him into having to be. With neither Deng nor Kyle Korver providing a third offensive option, Rose had to take on an even greater load than he did in his 27 shot, 9 free throw, 7 assist, 2 turnover performance in the previous game. Rose took 32 shots, 11 free throws, earned 10 assists, and committed 3 turnovers tonight. He earned every one of his 34 points and the degree to which the Hawks (most of the time) made him earn those points only confirms how exceptional his shot-making was in Game 3.

If the Hawks play together, if they move and move the ball, if they defend as a team, then Derrick Rose alone is not enough to beat them. If the Bulls can isolate the Hawks from each other offensively, if the Bulls can exploit the attention the Hawks must give Rose, then they will, obviously, control the game. Both scenarios have played out twice this series. Whichever we see twice more will decide the outcome.


lukas said...

Dear Jebus,

Please give us one magical playoff run to justify JJ's insane contract, giving us a temporary lift into the heavens and another team an excuse to trade something valuable for him.


Harrison S. said...

So proud of my Birds! Do it 10 more times please. Ok, maybe dreaming. But it'd be cool if we got it done!

Charles said...

I second the Lukas prayer.

jrauch said...

These are somewhat bittersweet games for me. I love watching them because, well, the Hawks are winning and playing well.

But to Bret's point, they make me sad because I see what could be. Josh Smith could be a dominant NBA player. This team could wrapping up its first full year with Jeff Teague as the starting PG, rather than just seeing what he can do in the first round of the playoffs.

I really think the conference finals -- even making the NBA finals -- isn't out of reach for the current talent we have assembled. Its just there's no consistent fire from this team night in and night out to be successful.

Last night was great, but can we win 2 of 3 from the Bulls, with two of those games at the United Center?

I hope we can, but I really don't think so.

Mr. Harden said...

For the first time I think, Lagree is admitting this series is genuinely in doubt. That in itself is some level of progress.

I am proud of the birds, but what has been done is not nearly enough. Why can't we be greedy and try to go for the whole pie.

Xavier said...

@Mr Harden- I nearly dropped my phone when I read the last paragraph. After 4 games it is evident to me Chicago may have over achieved this season and most analysts should have used the postseason a little bit more as the basis to judge teams. Going into this series I didnt think: 1. We would beat the Bulls and not due to the Bulls being a #1 seed in terms of being the best team in the East but due to the Bulls having homecourt advantage & 2. That the Bulls were supremely superior over the Hawks as most people tried to do. And along with that, people minimized how good Orlando was. As a result there were alot of sweep predictions and MAYBE Bulls in 5 which surprised me. And I hope the winner of game 5 surprises everyone again like game 4.

Mark Phelps said...

For the first time, I think, many around the league are saying what many Hawks fans have thought before: There is no reason why this team can't beat any team in the league, given the talent in place.

It's not to say that the Hawks are without their flaws, but if we see the rest of this series buoyed by the excellent passing last night and a consistent team effort, don't be surprised when these ATLiens are in the Conference Finals.

Also of note:

Joe Cowley's article seems to take the same dismissive attitude that Mike Bianchi took in the Orlando series, and I'm hoping they use it as similar motivation.