Monday, May 02, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 103 Chicago Bulls 95


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

CHI 86
1.105 49.4


With the exception of a brief period early in the third quarter when the Chicago Bulls successfully isolated Joe Johnson on one side of the floor and Josh Smith took (and missed) three jump shots in three-and-a-half minutes, the Atlanta Hawks played a brand and quality of basketball that resembled what Larry Drew described this summer far more than that which they displayed during the bulk of the regular season. Had the Hawks, with any regularity, run motion offense at the pace and with the precision they demonstrated tonight against the league's best defense even the most pessimistic of observers wouldn't have predicted a series sweep.

The gold standard of Joe Johnson playoff performances has long been Game 4 of the Celtics series. Tonight's performance might have been better. Johnson's shot-making again drove his star performance but, just as impressively, he allowed the offensive system and his teammates to create easier scoring opportunities for him. The greatest frustration with Johnson has never been a lack of ability so much as his (and his coaches') stubborn insistence on making things difficult for himself. Not that the 84.2 TS% Johnson posted tonight represents a true talent level for a less dribble-heavy, less isolated Johnson but the foundation of some easy shots and a couple trips to the foul line transforms the more difficult shots Johnson can make at the end of otherwise unproductive possessions into daggers.

Now, the Hawks, even excepting Johnson, did make a lot of jump shots tonight as Jamal Crawford continued to score frequently and efficiently this playoff season. Jason Collins knocked down a couple jumpers set shots (and grabbed two offensive rebounds). Josh Smith made a contested baseline jumper to put the Hawks back up 10 with 3:42 left in the game. Many of these were shots Chicago wanted the Hawks to take. The Hawks may have to continue to make them to continue to win games in this series but it's the rest of the team's performance that convinces one that making or missing jump shots will determine the results of games rather than Chicago's margin of victory.

Given his lack of regular playing time over the past two seasons, Jeff Teague should probably be graded on a curve. But he needn't be. The 44:37 he played, the 10 points he scored on 11 shots (that 8 of those 11 came inside of 15 feet certainly contributed to the diverse offensive attack), the 5 assists he earned against a single turnover and the 27 shots Derrick Rose needed to score 24 points (even though the Bulls, as a whole, scored just as efficiently tonight against the Hawks as they did during the regular season) should earn the second-year point guard a passing grade on merit.

Johnson and Crawford's scoring success rendered Al Horford offensively peripheral in terms of shot attempts but his three offensive rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers complemented their efforts. At the other end of the floor, Horford's ten defensive rebounds were crucial as was his defense of the rim. Josh Smith ably assisted Horford on the latter count, blocking four shots as well as playing a key role in the consistent ball and player movement in the halfcourt offense in the first half and, when Smith appeared to have lost the plot in the second half, Zaza Pachulia played seven very solid minutes in relief, making a couple layups and grabbing five rebounds.

It was a team effort. An effort in service of a sound gameplan. Larry Drew should be proud on both counts. Though I suspect he'll be even happier with the energy the Hawks displayed. Energy that had early, tangible value. The Hawks didn't build their game-opening 9-0 lead through flawless execution. Two of their first four scoring possessions were sloppy and would have resulted in turnovers rather than points had the Hawks not been quicker than the Bulls to loose balls.

Energy, execution, shot-making. The streak is over. The Hawks lead the Bulls 1-0.


tha DJ said...

with all due respect to the MVP and COY, the Hawks cant possibly sustain this level of play, and there is no way the Bulls wont rise to the occasion in this first-time second round playoff series for them, am i right?

there is no way Josh Smith can play better, Marvin Williams can play better and Al Horford to play better just in case Joe Johnson doesnt PLAY BETTER than tonight, is that not possible?

it has been made painfully obvious this evening that much like the Magic series they simply have better personnel with good strategy, but i just wonder, what will this blog do if the 2011 44-win Atlanta Hawks make the Eastern Conference Finals? But of course, that would be predicted to be a sweep as well, no matter who against ;)

Wish i could get on your consistency level so i just like to say hi every sometimes, plz dont mind

bless God


jrauch said...

I'm speechless.

I felt like this game was what the team had been promising -- and failing to deliver -- all season.

The ball movement, the seeming-like-we-all-give-a-crap. And when the Bulls finally punched by going up six in the second half, the Hawks didn't cave like a tent in a hurricane.

Bret, curious as to your thoughts on what a good series could mean for Teague's role in the future. I really like the kid, and he gives them an athleticism at the point that even Hinrich can't match.

lukas said...

Dear Hoopinion,

Holy hell.

In your defense, if the Hawks had given any indication that they had the kind of backbone they're currently showing, you'd have made different predictions. You're not a mush-mouthed apologist for the flaws of this team and I respect you for it.

With JRauch, I'm very impressed with Teague, and didn't miss Hinrich tonight as much as I thought I would. He's surely better able to get into and finish in the paint, and, though he's not as sound as a defender, 'effort' does count for something when paired with athleticism and instincts on the defensive side of the ball. All in all, it was a bewilderingly uplifting performance.

BL, would you be kind enough to discuss why it is that Smoove appeared to be everywhere on defense tonight, a trait he hasn't shown through much of the season. Is it because Chicago lacks offensive weapons, allowing him to sag and attack penetrators?

Bret LaGree said...

lukas --

So much of Smith's defensive value comes from closing space quickly, either as a help defender or in recovering. My guess that his defensive sprightliness last night was a combination of two factors: his knee felt better and, playing the four almost all night, there was less space for him to close.

Smith and Horford (Who looked more active than he had in the Orlando series, as well. Better health in his case or just further argument for Dwight Howard's defensive impact?) communicated really well in the post defensively. It really was an exceptional performance all around. Given the stakes of the game, it would have been an exceptional performance even if the Hawks had played better during the regular season.

Rufus1 said...

The Bulls are an illusion...

They have been playing with playoff level effort and defense all year...In the playoffs everyone plays at that level so experienced, talented shotmakers are the difference and the Hawks have more.

They get their points from turnovers, offensive rebs and DRose(One players ISO-Players). Those things are the easiest to solve in the playoffs and we have alot of knowledge on how to stop one "ISO player".

When the Hawks beat the Magic(Their true Bully) the Bulls were just bunch of overconfident, overachievers, who now stand in their way.

They don't have a 2nd gear and the playoffs are played at a different speed.

Adam Malka said...

I think folks are writing off the Bulls a bit too quickly here. The Hawks' offense definitely looked great, but they also made a number of jump shots and rebounded in a way they usually don't. Against a very good defensive team, and against a team that usually out-rebounds them, I'll be looking to see how they shoot and rebound in Game 2.

What I'd love to see is Josh Smith and Al Horford each turn things around on the offensive end and pick up the guards when the comes back down to earth. That might need to happen as soon as next game.

Also, Brett, I know you're busy and it's the playoffs, but is there enough of a sample to compare the team's performance when Teague is on the floor with JJ, Smith, and Horford vs. when Crawford, Hinrich, and Bibby shared the floor with those guys (obviously there's crossover, but that shouldn't much matter)? I'd be curious to know which "point guard" helps the offense along the most, because to the naked eye, things just seem to go better when Teague is on the floor with the rest of the starters.

Bret LaGree said...

Adam --

If I had an intern, I'd gladly track that down for you but I don't and I have a post on a different topic to finish and get up before it becomes outdated at tip-off.

If you click the link for the Jeff Teague tag, you'll find a post I wrote during the season showing that the Hawks had done fine with Teague on the floor as long as he played alongside Johnson and/or Crawford. Not exactly what you want, but it's the best I can do right now.