4 Total Updates since May 10, 2011
about 2 years ago Commentary 0 commentsContinue
about 2 years ago Update 0 comments
The Chicago Bulls used a strong fourth quarter to pull away from the Hawks, on their way to a 95-83 win on Tuesday. They now have a 3-2 advantage in this second round series, and stand just one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The biggest surprise from this game wasn't that the Bulls went on that run in the fourth quarter, but rather the lineup that put it together. It wasn't Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer that did most of the damage, but rather reserves Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, even Rose didn't see those contributions coming.
"I was kind of surprised," Rose said of the lineup. "But they gave us a lot of energy, making hustle plays, stealing the ball, blocking shots, rebounding. They did everything we wanted them to do. This is a team thing. When guys come in, they have to play as good as the starters. And they did that."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't quite as surprised as Rose.
"This is great," Thibodeau said. "We've prepared ourselves all season for moments like this. The playoffs are like this. They're hard-fought, a grind. You have to overcome things."
The guys over at Blog a Bull recognize that this was the best defensive lineup that the team could put out on the floor, and that they really clamped down on the Hawks in that final frame.
The Bulls outscored Atlanta 26-15 in that 4th quarter, led first by their incredible defensive play. Outside of Rose it's a lineup that has the best and most active defensive options on roster. Even when putting Asik over Noah, I'd say that Asik+Taj is better complementary defensive tandem than Noah+Taj, with Asik providing better post defense and taking up space allowing Taj to better hedge around the court. And with Brewer and Deng at the 2-3, they can fairly successfully bottle up Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
When gameplanning against the Bulls, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik probably aren't the first two guys you think might impact the game. But it was those two that helped the Bulls come away with a win in this one.
about 2 years ago Update 0 comments
As if this series needed another plot twist.
After an opening act that featured the best version of the Bulls running out to a 15-point lead via Derrick Rose and a re-energized Luol Deng, the Atlanta Hawks turned back into the legitimately scary team that out-talented Chicago in Game 4, pulling even even entering the fourth quarter.
With a dream season on the line, NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau had the stones to go with a closing lineup he hadn't used once this year, let alone in the playoffs, and it paid off as a masterstroke of coaching genius. Rose, Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik entered the game to begin the fourth, and when the lineup worked Thibs stuck with it until the game was over. The Bulls' best defensive lineup clamped down on Atlanta when the starters couldn't, and Rose, along with a huge contribution from Gibson, provided all the offense the Bulls would need on their way to a 95-83 victory.
Rose was simply spectacular, scoring 33 points while only making two jumpshots and adding nine assists. It was a stunning display of attacking the basket, and the fact that Atlanta couldn't defend what everyone in the building knew was coming made it all the more amazing.
Gibson played his best stint as a professional basketball player, scoring all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter on a variety of jumpers and a few twisting, pivoting moves in the paint. Gibson's given the Bulls great energy and defense off the bench all year, but offensive performances like this one show that he can offer a lot more in the future. Even Rose said after the game that "Taj doesn't know how good he can be." As it was, the two played off one another on offense while Atlanta was forced and frustrated back into a stagnant isolation-heavy offense.
Deng filled the Bulls' desperate need for offense early, scoring the team's first seven points on his way to 23 points, including 7-of-7 from the free throw line. Carlos Boozer had his first double-double of the playoffs with 11 points and 12 rebounds in only 30 minutes, and really had some more life in his legs. And just to remind you how much box scores can lie, Asik had zero points and only four rebounds, but his interior defense and activity meant everything to the Bulls' defense after getting carved up for the second and third quarters.
Sure, Gibson replaced Boozer and Brewer replaced Korver, who only logged four minutes in the game, but it was shocking to see Joakim Noah sit out the entire fourth quarter. As I tweeted earlier in the game, one of the main reasons the Hawks were closing in on the Bulls was that Al Horford was winning the matchup between the two former Florida stars, and Atlanta did a stellar job to keep Noah off the offensive boards.
Jeff Teague's ascendance continues as the third year guard once again led his team in scoring with 21 points on 8-11 shooting. Horford had 12 points and ten rebounds and gave the Bulls' interior defense fits as he popped out for jumpers around the free throw line time and again. And much-maligned Josh Smith was again active on the inside, matching energy with Chicago's bigs and cutting inside instead of camping on the perimeter as he had in the series' first three games.
The Bulls got contributions up and down the roster (even Bogans had 11 points!), and still the game wasn't in hand until the final minutes. Chicago has found themselves locked in a much more even battle than anyone predicted before this series began, and they will need to do even better if they are to win Game 6 on Thursday in Atlanta.
about 2 years ago Update 0 comments
Looking for some video clips on which to feast thine eyes before tonight’s Game Five showdown between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks? Courtesy of NBA.com, here a couple of hot links to sate your appetite:
about 2 years ago Update 0 comments
With the series tied 2-2, the Bulls find themselves in a much more tenuous position than they were only a few days ago. Perhaps both the team and those covering it (COUGH me COUGH) began to look past the Hawks a little bit, but who can blame them? The Hawks were so predictable and so putrid in the series' first three games -- including Game 1, where about a million atrocious Atlanta shots ended up finding the bottom of the net -- that a performance like the one we saw in Game 4 caught the Bulls flat-footed.
For the first time in these playoffs, hell, the last few months, the Bulls were out-executed down the stretch in a game. It's hard to know exactly what to attribute it to, as it was a multi-faceted loss that couldn't be summed up as simply as: "ROSE AWESOME" or "ROSE NOT AWESOME ENOUGH", much to the chagrin of bloggers everywhere. So instead of pointing out the many things that made Game 4 go against the Bulls -- Derrick Rose's tunnel vision, his teammates' disappearance, Josh Smith's rim-attacking doppleganger, a must-have game for the Hawks in their gym -- let's keep it simple.
The one constant in this series is this: When the Bulls get on top of the Hawks early, they win. When the game stays tight, the glaring reality of Atlanta's offensive superiority scares the hell out of me. Depending upon who you ask, the Hawks have between three and five players who can create their own offense: Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague. The Bulls have one. You may have heard of him. Starts with an "r", ends with an "e", and is a type of flower?
That difference is literally the only thing that makes the Hawks dangerous, as Chicago owns the rebounding advantage, the defensive advantage, the coaching advantage and usually, the execution advantage. That's a lot of assets for a team to have, but none of it means a thing if the Bulls can't be more efficient on offense against a team that can always get a shot up.
I think it's fair to say that no one saw a near-triple double coming from Josh Smith in Game 4, after watching him make terrible decisions all series and literally causing his home fans to scream "NOOOOOO!" whenever he took a shot beyond 15 feet. But he did show up big in his team's biggest game of the season, and Thibodeau will need to adjust his defense to coax Smith back into his team-killing jumpshooting ways.
On the Bulls' side, Luol Deng -- who was shockingly snubbed from the All-NBA defensive teams -- needs to chip in a little more on offense to keep defenses honest against Rose. Deng is slumping most of all from behind the arc, where he is 2-12 in the series. In general, he is fantastically consistent, but had his worst game in the playoffs in Game 4 and the Bulls need him to bounce back. As for being left off the All-defensive squads, somehow Rose got more votes than Deng, which is an absolutely absurd notion. Rose is a lot of things, but better than Deng (not to mention many other players) on defense is not one of them. On the bright side, Joakim Noah was named to 2nd team All-defense despite missing almost 40 games. Noah is the Bulls' best interior defender and best offensive rebounder, wreaking havoc on most nights because of his length and non-stop motor. It would help the Bulls if Noah could get a couple of those little lefty hooks he's becoming so good at, but more than anything he needs to rebound the ball on both ends for Chicago to reassert itself.
Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, the Bulls' two best perimeter shooters, are struggling mightily to find the range, combining to shoot only 30% so far in the series. That may help explain why Rose tried to take on more of the offensive load when crunch time came down the pike in Game 4. No matter the explanation, the Bulls were far too one-dimensional and made it easy for a mediocre-at-best defensive team. Carlos Boozer is a bit of an after-thought, despite playing well in Game 4 and showing some lift after months of getting his shot blocked. The Bulls need him to rebound well and at least hold up on defense, but with the game's importance Thibs will have a quick hook for Boozer. It's unlikely he'd need to use it, however, as you can pencil in Carlos for two early fouls pretty much every first quarter.
At the end of the day, the humility that comes with a tough loss, combined with a return home to the United Center, a need-to-have game and the likelihood that at least one of the Bulls' shooters gets off the snide, all foretell improvement for Chicago. If the Bulls can get back to forcing the Hawks to take long jumpers and then get out in transition off of misses, I like the team's chances to push the Hawks to the brink of elimination. But if Atlanta stays close heading into the fourth quarter, I'll be chewing on a towel like Jerry Tarkanian used to do.
Game 5 at the United Center tips off at 7:00 p.m. CDT on TNT.