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Bulls 95, Hawks 103: Joe Johnson, Atlanta Make Bulls Pay Where Pacers Couldn't

This recap was going to be about how the Bulls offensive struggles have carried over from their opening round series and how Atlanta shot a blistering 58%, including 34 points from Joe Johnson.

Then, inexplicably, with one second left, Derrick Rose stepped on Jamal Crawford’s foot on a pointless end-of-game trap and re-injured his left ankle. Rose slowly limped off the court and was ushered directly into the X-Ray room.

Via @paulafaris on Twitter, Rose said “it’s the same ankle. I’m gonna get treatment. I’ll be alright.”

This is the bad part about ankle sprains. Even when they aren’t severe enough to keep one from playing, the ankle is destabilized and is susceptible to further injury. Game 2 is only 48 hours away, and as Rose already played tentatively in Game 1 (3-7 on layups, 18 jump shots, 0 FTAs), a further ankle injury does not bode well for the Bulls chances.

Luol Deng kept the Bulls in the game in the first half, scoring 17 points when seemingly no other Bull could find the range. But as has happened multiple times now in these playoffs, Deng logged 45 minutes and was gassed in the second half, scoring only four points after the break.

Prior to the aforementioned ankle injury, Rose once again struggled to make shots, going 11-27 from the floor and amazingly never reaching the free throw line, the first time that has happened since December 11th. Carlos Boozer played with a turf toe injury and had an effective stretch in the third quarter that saw him net six points and three rebounds. He finished the game with 14 points, eight rebounds and the peace of mind that he wasn’t the target of fan and media ire.

In general, the Bulls played the same on-again, off-again style that we watched against the Indiana Pacers. The Atlanta Hawks, however, have the ability to hit shots, including tough late-game isolations with the shot clock running down. Now, it isn’t likely that Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford will combine to go 20-34 from the floor every night, especially when almost all of those shots are contested long jumpers. But the Bulls cannot afford to wait until the fourth quarter to make their move as they did against the Pacers, because the Hawks have the ability to make shots late in the game.

Coach Tom Thibodeau, who received the NBA’s Coach of the Year award prior to the opening tip, is likely telling his team the same thing. The Bulls were outshot, yes, but they were also out-rebounded, which cannot continue if they are to have any hope of winning this series. Atlanta finished the regular season ranked 25th in rebounding while the Bulls were the best in the league. That is a stat the Bulls must win every night.

An interesting statistic was that Kyle Korver was a +17 in his 16 minutes on the floor, while the Bulls were -25 when he wasn’t. It’s a small sample size, which allows that it may be coincidence, but it's equally likely that the Bulls offense simply needs his shooting and the spacing that threat provides. Atlanta seems to settle for long jumpers on regardless of who is on defense, so Korver's negatives on that end could be hidden better than usual. At the very least his stellar play this postseason deserves a little more than 16 MPG.

With homecourt advantage now gone, the Bulls must rebound quickly to take Game 2 and then win at least one game in Atlanta. They have dug themselves an early hole, but this is a team that has responded to adversity all year.

Let’s just hope when Derrick Rose walks out to accept the league’s Most Valuable Player trophy on Wednesday night, he does so without a limp.