The Bulls and Hawks were tied at 84 with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter and as a season-long observer, I must say I was less concerned than I should have been. Having watched this team close game after game with combination of lockdown defense and MVP Derrick Rose scoring every crucial bucket, it was bizarre to watch the Bulls breakdown on defense as Josh Smith and Jeff Teague of all people sparked the Hawks to a runaway Game 4 win.
The Atlanta Hawks are a hard team to figure out. They are either the most beatable team in the playoffs or an offensive juggernaut that the Bulls struggle to match up with. There doesn't really seem to be a whole lot of in between, and tonight it was the latter. They threw their absolute best punch, and while the Bulls hung in for three and a half quarters, ultimately it was too much to overcome when the offense turned into the Rose show.
Rose finished with 34 points and ten assists, but it took 32 shots to get there. There's no questioning his greatness, and if you've forgotten please review the tape from Game 3, but when the shots stop falling, it points out the glaring truth of the Bulls offense: no one else can create their own offense.
As Mike Wilbon tweeted after the game, this is the reason the Bulls looked to upgrade the shooting guard position at the trade deadline and what may ultimately end up being their undoing. The Bulls first points from their 2-guards came midway through the third quarter when Keith Bogans hit a three-pointer, his only points of the game. Kyle Korver couldn't get a shot to fall today, going 1-8 for two points, and Ronnie Brewer barely saw the floor and finished without a point after blowing a dunk attempt late in the first half.
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah also failed to fill the scoring void, finishing with 13 and 7 points, respectively. Deng had a particularly tough shooting game, going 5-14 from the floor. Carlos Boozer had by far his best game this postseason with 18 points on 7-10 shooting and actually had a few grown man wow plays. Even if it is somewhat from minimized expectations, there's no arguing Boozer's impact in this game before the team-wide meltdown in the fourth quarter.
If anyone has been an x-factor at anything ever, they still don't hold a candle to x-factoredness of Josh Smith. Yes, I made the word up, but who cares, it works. Smith was nearly a member of the Bulls in the first three games of this series, taking deep two-point jumpshots he seldom makes instead of attacking the rim which he does extremely well. If you're looking for the bottom line of the Bulls' loss, take a gander at Smith's box score: 23 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists. He was still inefficient, going 8-22 from the floor, but his activity and play-making gave the Bulls fits, especially in the transition where the Hawks had 16 easy points.
Jeff Teague continued to show how much his own team misjudged his talent for the last three years, scoring 12 points, four points and four assists including several big plays down the stretch. Al Horford finally showed up for the Hawks, scoring 20 points that the Bulls hadn't had to watch out for to this point in the series. And after being minimized for the last two games, Joe Johnson scored 23 points including 3 of 5 from downtown. No doubt about it, the Hawks put together one of their best games in a long while and the Bulls simply got beat.
It isn't panic time for these Bulls. To channel Tom Thibodeau, they will watch the film, make corrections, and get ready for the next game. As much as the Bulls know the formula for beating these Hawks, when they aren't able to get a lead and clamp down defensively there are no assurances. Let's hope a return to the friendly confines of the United Center is enough to return sanity to an increasingly schizophrenic series.