By Brad Thompson–
CHICAGO (WSCR) The Hawks 103-95 victory at the United Center in Game 1 had to be an anomaly right? Since when do the Bulls play lackluster basketball and get outrebounded while Derrick Rose plays poorly?
From the opening tip, it was clear that the Bulls weren’t themselves. It led to Atlanta winning their first second-round playoff game in more than a decade. Chicago came out flat and the Hawks took advantage by scoring at will against one of the league’s best defenses. It was 28-18 at the end of the first quarter.
The problem for Chicago wasn’t just the early 10-point deficit – they nearly erased that by halftime and took the lead in the third quarter – it was the confidence that Atlanta gained in the first quarter that was ultimately the Bulls undoing.
Atlanta is a talented team. They have a tremendous amount of athleticism at each position, but, at times, they lack mental toughness. The Hawks are a team that will fold up the tent and go home if you step on their throat from the beginning. I know they fought back late in the third and early in the fourth, but it’s only because they were already full of confidence by then.
After the win, Atlanta’s coach Larry Drew said, “Trying to get off to a fast start is something we talk about all the time.” Oh really? It’s something the Bulls should talk about preventing from happening all the time.
To me, this wasn’t that unexpected from Chicago. This team has never been in this position before. They’ve never had to deal with the pressure or expectations of being a playoff favorite. Experience in the playoffs is invaluable and it’s something the Bulls are short on. It doesn’t mean they can’t go deep into the playoffs, but it does mean that it’s going to be a lot bumper road than fans might think.
As much as the statistics point to a Hawks series win after the Game 1 victory – the winner of Game 1 in the best of seven series goes on to win 78 percent of the time – the good news is that Chicago is still the better team.
If Rose is healthy, which is a mighty big if right now, then Chicago is still the favorite to win the series even being down 1-0. If it wasn’t obvious after the opener, the Hawks are a jump shooting team. Atlanta is prone to taking bad shots and their shot selection is questionable – think Josh Smith early in the third quarter. They will shoot themselves right out of games at times.
Joe Johnson had a stellar game and was incredibly efficient offensively. He was 12 of 18 from the field, including five of five from behind the arc, for 34 points. Hats off to Johnson, he’s a great player, but he won’t be that good again in this series.
The Bulls played uncharacteristically poor. Their normally stout defense allowed Atlanta to shoot 51.3 percent from the field. Chicago was outrebounded by Atlanta, albeit by only one, but the Hawks ranked 28th in rebounding during the regular season while the Bulls were second. Rose didn’t attempt a single free throw and, as a team, the Bulls only went to the line 16 times. None of this smells like the usually Bulls – they’ll be back though.
The Game 1 performance from the Bulls was certainly disappointing. The lack of energy or, as coach Thibodeau said after the game, the lack of an edge was something not seen from the Bulls in a while. As bad as it was, it won’t continue. Maybe the Bulls were rusty or started believing all the hype about them sweeping the series. Regardless, this team is good enough to make the necessarily adjustments to win the series, but they just made it a whole lot harder on themselves.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.