Saturday, May 07, 2011

Chicago Bulls 99 Atlanta Hawks 82



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

ATL 81
1.012 47.9


If Game 1 provided a vision of how the Atlanta Hawks could beat the Chicago Bulls--by making shots created through quick, precise player and ball movement and almost breaking even on the glass--then Game 3 reminded everyone of the vast gulf that separated the teams in the regular season.

Quite simply the Atlanta Hawks are not as good at defending or rebounding as the Chicago Bulls and, though Jeff Teague (21 points on 13 shots, three assists, one turnover, another 40+ minutes played) tried his damnedest not to make it true, the Atlanta Hawks do not have a player as good as Derrick Rose to overcome their weaknesses. Rose's 44-point explosion testified more to his skills than an Atlanta defensive breakdown. Sure, it would nice if the Hawks' defensive gameplan didn't include the opportunity for Rose to step into uncontested jump shots whenever he felt like it but there's little more Teague can do than prevent Rose from getting all the way from the rim. If Rose stops and elevates quickly and scores from eight-to-ten feet, that's to his credit. The same goes for Al Horford or Josh Smith challenging Rose in and around the paint. If he can get his shot off just before they arrive, or float his teardrop just over their outstretched arm, well, that's why he's the MVP.

NOTE: In the following paragraphs, assume the phrase "Jeff Teague excepted" throughout. Thank you.

Oh, how the Hawks could use a dynamic offensive performance. It needn't be MVP-caliber, just representative of an All-Star. The Hawks officially have two such players and a third of arguably equivalent ability. None of them put Chicago's defense under any sort of pressure last night. Johnson (10 points on 12 shots, three assists, two turnovers) was a tentative shell of the player who exploded in Game 1, often compounding his lack of effective work before receiving the ball by stopping the ball as soon he touched it. Al Horford (10 points on 12 shots, two assists) had the opposite problem in the first half. He rushed everything. The three composed shots he made in the second half might provide some hope for him to snap out of it going forward but arrived too late to have any impact on this game.

Josh Smith remains the greatest enigma. No Chicago player can keep him from getting to the basket (Smith made seven of eight shots in the paint and got to the free throw line eight times) but Smith show only an intermittent interest in the possibility. He missed six more shots from outside of 15 feet in this game, bringing his series total to 0-17 (that's 0%) and his playoff total to 8-51 (that's 18.6% after crediting him for the three three-pointers he made against Orlando) outside of 15 feet.

Smith did put in a better shift on the defensive glass than in Game 2, grabbing 13 defensive rebounds but, even though Al Horford deserves the bulk of the questions as to why he only controlled five of Chicago's misses (and, on some possessions, "I was helping away from the basket," would be an answer both satisfactory and true), Smith's performance was far from flawless. Smith boxed-out no one, instead trying to leak out following Derrick Rose's missed jumper with 1:37 left in the first quarter. When Taj Gibson rebounded the miss, Smith stood flat-footed in the paint four-to-six feet from the basket and watched as Gibson and Noah garnered three more offensive rebounds in quick succession, a sequence ended only when Zaza Pachulia fouled Gibson. Similarly, Noah's only bucket of the game came on a tip-in of a missed Rose jumper. Smith, guarding Noah, backed up toward his own baseline until, as shot met rim, he stood under the back of the rim facing his own basket and watched the uncontested Noah tip in the miss. Smith then turned and complained to the baseline ref.

Pachulia's performance (one point, one rebound, and four fouls in nine minutes), combined with Rick Sund's summer, didn't give Larry Drew any appealing options regarding his struggling starters nor do Smith and Horford deserve any blame for both Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams failing to grab a single defensive rebound in 37 and 23 minutes, respectively. But, at least in Smith's case, the rub is that, despite putting on a somewhat contemptible performance, he scored 17 points on 14 shots, grabbed 13 rebounds, and earned four assists. Smith is a very capable basketball player undermined by his inability to hold himself accountable to his abilities and the coddling he's received from his organization throughout his career.

Joe Johnson has diagnosed the problem:
"It just seemed as if a lot of times we just ran a lot of pick-and-rolls and I was just kind of buried in the corner. I just thought we played into their hands. We didn’t do anything, I thought, to get our scorers the basketball to make plays. They come with the double team and they make us give it up. We can’t win like that. If you look at Game 1 it was nothing like that. Obviously they made adjustments but at the same time we have to stick with what got us here."
As well as the solution:
"I just got to force the issue. In Game 4, I am definitely going to do that. I am not going to succumb to the double team and give it up every time because that’s what they want. We are playing right into their hands. I blame myself for that."
Al Horford mildly dissents:
"We had too much one-on-one. When you do that, this team is too good defensively. We just need to do a better job moving the ball and running the offense the right way. If one guy is not running the offense right, it’s not going to work for others. So I think that’s our biggest problem right now on the offensive end."
It should be pointed out that last night's game was the second-most efficient offensive performance the Hawks have had in six games against the Bulls this season and that giving up more than 120 points per 100 possessions to a mediocre offensive team may be a greater problem but, hey, this Atlanta where defense is just energy and rebounding is just a matter of physicality.

Larry 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."
At ProBasketballTalk Rob Mahoney writes (one hopes a premature) elegy for the possibility of surprise Game 1 offered this series:
We know the characters and sadly, the plot of this series, barring a rewrite. The Bulls are a team defined by their diligence, and the Hawks a team defined by their vices. Rose will go to work against the Hawks defense, Joakim Noah will scrap his way to every offensive board in sight. Chicago’s defense will grind and grind and grind, and the Hawks’ offense will settle and settle and settle. Josh Smith will keep taking long jumpers to a chorus of boos from his home fans. Joe Johnson will stop the ball. Atlanta will work away from everything that works, and even when they get a productive night from Jeff Teague or a more balanced scoring effort than they’re accustomed, a team in Atlanta’s position is forever left wanting more. They’re not without hope, but as an outmatched team facing an elite club with a truly amazing player (the best in the league, according to MVP voters), they’re also without a foundation for victory should all things remain constant.
Matt Moore proclaims Rose's Game 3 performance the definition of unstoppable.

1 comment:

Zoe said...

I think that most of us longtime Hawks observers realized that the method in which they won that first game was an unsustainable model for success. The instances of their shooters getting collectively red hot are more the exception than the rule. Every time Crawford or Johnson goes off with a 12-20 night, we know that a series of 4-14 and 2-11 nights are sure to follow. What's more surprising? I didn't think the Hawks frontcourt would get so completely outplayed by the likes of Noah/Boozer they way they have. Horford should own Joakim. Yeah, right.