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After seven games of lulls and lapses, The Bulls finally showed the 62-win form that had so many touting them as a title contender going into these playoffs. Derrick Rose was nothing less than brilliant, scoring a new playoff career-high 44 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds. After looking so tentative in Game 2, Rose looked much more like the MVP we have come to know this season, attacking the basket and pushing the ball in transition.
When Rose's shots didn't fall, the Bulls absolutely crushed Atlanta on the offensive glass. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 15 of the Bulls' 18 offensive rebounds, while the Hawks only had 26 defensive rebounds. That is an insane percentage, one that would many any opposing coach make reservations for the nearest padded room.
Gibson and Kyle Korver were the only other Bulls to score in double figures, with 13 and 11 respectively, as Luol Deng, Noah and Carlos Boozer (huge surprise) had subpar games offensively. However it was the team defense that was absolutely stifling, and for only the second time in these playoffs coach Tom Thibodeau got extremely productive minutes from his bench unit. The bench scored 34 points overall and extended a lead for the first time in these playoffs during a great stretch in the second quarter.
Thibodeau has made great adjustments to both Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, and when Gibson came into the game Thibodeau even employed a trap against Crawford to force the ball out of his hands. Johnson shot 4-12 and Crawford, 3-7, forcing the Hawks to look for offense from some of their less-efficient players. Jeff Teague continues to play extremely well, begging the question of how he spent so much of the season parked on the end of the Hawks' bench. Teague scored 21 points and led his team in scoring for the second straight game.
After Game 2, Thibodeau said he hoped to push the ball more in the games ahead, and it deserves acknowledgment. Thibs understands that if you can get on top of the Hawks early, the game is much easier to win. After seeing his team struggle to hit shots in the halfcourt in this series, Thibs emphasized transition baskets and it allowed his team to get the jump on the Hawks and take control of the game.
A final note, and it needs to be mentioned: Injury or not, if this is what Carlos Boozer offers at this point, then he needs to sit out a few games to regain his form. Thibodeau limited his minutes tonight after a largely ineffective stint that saw poor defensive rotations, and turnovers and fouls on the offensive end. Once Gibson entered the game, the Bulls defense locked down the Hawks and the rout was on. There's something to the idea that Boozer might be more effective coming off the bench to face another team's second unit. In a world without ego, Boozer could be a focal point for the bench's offense and could bridge the gap between Rose's stints on the floor. Alas, that is unlikely to happen as a demotion of Boozer at this point in the season could end up hurting him more than helping. These guys are human, after all.
Road wins aren't easy to come by at any time, to say nothing of the playoffs. But Rose and the Bulls built a lead, shut up the Phillips Arena crowd (half of whom were chanting MVP for Rose by game's end) and never gave the Hawks a chance to make a run. That's what championship teams do, and tonight will serve as a template for the kind of effort and execution the Bulls will need if they do indeed advance in these playoffs.
Game 4 will be on Sunday night at 7:00 CDT. Now that the Bulls have wrested back home court advantage, the goal now is to take a stranglehold on the series and have a chance to finish it off in Chicago in Game 5. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Game 3 reminded us all of who these Bulls can be when everything is working, and it was a sweet sight to see.
What’s up, Bulls fans? Looking for something to watch before tip-off tonight? Here’s a couple of cool videos to check out:
As the series shifts to the home court of the Atlanta Hawks, it almost seems hard to remember how invincible the Chicago Bulls were at times during the regular season. No matter the opponent, the injuries or the venue, there was a sense that Chicago would be victorious when the final buzzer sounded.
Not so now, as the fluorescent light of the playoffs has illuminated the Bulls flaws for all to see. Call it pessimistic if you must, but the team has a few key issues that have merely been exacerbated with the injuries to their two best scorers.
As far as the injuries go, there isn't much to update. Derrick Rose would sooner say he was born in Kenya than admit his ankle was hurting -- even if it's clear to all who have watched his last few games that it is giving him problems. When your all-world point guard doesn't go to the rim, which is basically what his game andthe entire Bulls offense is designed around, you know he's hurting.
Carlos Boozer's turf toe has been a little harder to see with the naked eye, as he has played terrible basketball both before and after the injury occurred. Boozer is no doubt hurting, not only from his ailing foot, but also from the common refrain he has heard throughout his professional career. Besides his poor play, it isn't exactly clear why he seems to draw the ire of fans wherever he goes. Nevertheless, he has quickly risen in the pantheon of frustratingly overpaid Chicago athletes, joining the notorious Mt. Rushmore of Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones and Brian Campbell. Somewhere, Jay Cutler is penning a thank you card to Booz.
With Rose unable to attack (and left to shoot a jumper that's as streaky as it is improved) and Boozer ineffective in the post, the Bulls offense, which is predicated on inside-out ball movement, is stuck in a massive rut. Many are calling for Kyle Korver to get more playing time, and as the Hawks don't take advantage of offensive opportunities and mismatches as well as other teams, it's hard to argue.
At the beginning of the season, when Boozer was still recovering from his broken pinky and Rose hadn't yet made his leap to superstardom, Thibodeau's offense featured Korver much more prominently than it does now. Until either Rose or Boozer regains some of the form that got the Bulls where they are today, Korver and the spacing his presence provides seems too important to park on the bench.
It isn't all gloom and doom, though. Joakim Noah has shown himself to be a player that elevates his game when the pressure is at its highest. Call it being a "winner" if you must, but Noah's desire to take his team on his shoulders has been the difference through the first two games of this series. Without him, the Bulls likely would have been blown out in Game One, and his rebounding and a crucial 19 points really saved the team in Game Two.
Likewise, the ever-steady and dependable Luol Deng continues to quietly fill the stat sheet, defend the opposing team's best perimeter player and do whatever the team needs in order to win. After so many years of intermittent injuries and disappearances in big games, Deng has become the veteran rock that every team hopes and dreams of obtaining.
And that's where the Bulls will make their hay, with the triumvirate of Rose, Deng and Noah: The team's superstar, rock andheart. Everything else revolves around the performances and personalities of those three players, despite the fact that Boozer is the Bulls' highest paid player by far.
The Hawks have the second-worst home record of any team in this year's playoffs, and are 22ndin the league in attendance. In terms of dealing with a home-court advantage, the Bulls couldn't find a better place to go in and steal a game. While the affect a crowd has on players is arguable, the way it alters referees' calls is not. Home cooking is a part of the NBA, and if Bulls fans travel as well as they have all year, it could mitigate one the Hawks few advantages in this series.
Struggle as the Bulls have on offense, their defense is probably going to be too much for Atlanta to overcome. As has been said many times, the Hawks are keen to settle for jumpers if a defense makes it even mildly difficult to run Larry Drew's flex offense. More often than not, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson or Josh Smith will stop the ball, dribble it into submission and launch a shot as the clock runs down. The only problem with this from the Bulls perspective is that they're so practiced at that particular iso-offense that their lockdown D strategy from the Indiana series may not work.
The way to beat Atlanta is to play from ahead, so there isn't a late-game shootout. Because frankly, the Hawks are much more offensively-talented than the Bulls are at this stage. And, if their shots are falling, it isn't likely that Chicago can keep up. That's what happened in Game One, while the Bulls played from a lead in Game Two and coasted to a relatively easy win. The Hawks thrive on the confidence their opponent allows them. Both in the games and in the series as a whole, the key for Chicago is to get out in front.
As it is, all eyes will be on Rose, who's shooting 38% in these playoffs to go with a rumored grade-two sprain of his left ankle. On the road, in a hostile environment, the Bulls will need their superstar to lift them up now more than ever.
Game Three tip-off: 6:00 CDT on ESPN.
For updates and live-game commentary, follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks