DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) During Game 4 of the Chicago Bulls’ matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Derrick Rose saw one team playing harder, chasing down loose balls and scoring easy baskets. But there was one small problem.
Rose’s team wasn’t the one putting forth the superior effort.
The Atlanta Hawks were. Now, the top-seeded Chicago Bulls are trying to pick themselves up after a 100-88 loss Sunday that left the Eastern Conference semifinals tied 2-2.
“They just played harder, getting to loose balls, second effort, chasing balls down,” Rose said after a light practice and video session Monday.
Game 5 is Tuesday at the United Center, and another effort like that could put the Bulls on the brink of elimination. That’s not what they envisioned after breezing to a league-leading 62 wins and securing home-court advantage. But this hasn’t been an easy postseason for favorites in general.
The Los Angeles Lakers just got knocked out, swept by Dallas. San Antonio was gone after the first round. Boston or Miami will be, too, with the Celtics and Heat slugging it out in the other Eastern semifinal.
The Hawks see all that happening and figure everything’s wide open.
“We do feel like that,” Jamal Crawford said. “Sure other teams feel like that as well. Right now, it’s just a three-game series. Who thought we’d be here at this point? … I like our chances. But I’m sure every other team like theirs as well.”
It was hard to envision the Hawks advancing this far, considering they dropped their final six games and finished the regular season with just 44 wins. Yet, they knocked off Orlando and are threatening an upset against Chicago.
For the Bulls, this is new territory.
They came into the postseason with soaring expectations after matching their best record since the 1997-98 championship season, only to get pushed hard by Indiana in the opening round.
Atlanta isn’t backing down, either, and losing this series would be a letdown for a team that underwent a big overhaul after back-to-back first-round exits.
Dropping Game 5 would really put Chicago on shaky ground. Even so, Rose insisted there’s no pressure on the Bulls; they just want to play better.
“If anything, I think that all of us are mad with the effort that we put in the last game,” he said. “It wasn’t good enough. Tomorrow, we’re playing back in our building. The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable, and we’re just going to have to play.”
The Hawks looked like they might be on their way out after getting shredded 99-82 in Game 3, but they dug in instead, outscoring Chicago 16-4 over the final four minutes to pull even in the series.
Josh Smith decided to go to the basket rather than settle for jumpers and wound up with 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists.
Al Horford scored 20 on 9-of-11 shooting in his best game of the season. Joe Johnson chipped in with 24 and the Hawks shot just under 50 percent against one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
“I just went out there played my game, played with a ton of confidence,” said Smith, who’d been getting booed. “Just rolled with the tidal wave with the crowd. And we got it done last night.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said they need to do a better job keeping him off the boards and “gang rebound.” That means the guards being active on the glass.
It would help, too, if they kept Jeff Teague out of the paint and if Rose played like an MVP.
He scored 34 points Sunday but was nowhere near as effective as in Game 3, when he poured in a career-best 44 while leading Chicago to an easy win.
He attempted 32 shots Sunday, sparking a debate whether he took too many. Just for the record, the only number that Rose thought was too high was the misses.
“I was just missing shots,” he said. “Looking at film, I missed a ton of layups – layups I normally don’t miss. It wasn’t like I was taking a whole bunch of crazy shots or a whole bunch of jump shots. Those were shots that I normally make. My confidence is still high. My teammates, they trust me. I have confidence when I’m taking shots, and I’m going to continue to.”
The fact that Rose was aggressive was encouraging. He also wound up with 10 assists even though the Bulls shot 41 percent, and the Bulls can also take comfort in Carlos Boozer showing some spark.
Limited by a turf toe injury on his right foot, he hit 7 of 10 shots while scoring 18 points and heard “Booz” instead of “boos” from the Chicago fans in Atlanta. Still, the Bulls struggled from the outside, hitting just 3 of 16 3-pointers. Kyle Korver (0 for 5) and Luol Deng (1 for 6) in particular were off-target.
That needs to change. So does this.
“When you see the film, you can see that their players played with a lot more of an edge,” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said. “Seeing as their backs were against the wall, they played a lot harder.”
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