(Updated: 10:40 p.m.)
Sensing problems early, Hawks coach Larry Drew called his first timeout a mere 49 seconds into the game. Had there been a defibrillator in the huddle, it might have made a difference.
Those Hawks who turned home court into an advantage in the Orlando series? They didn’t show up Friday night. There’s a temptation to wonder if they even made it through the doors at Philips Arena, where there were increased security measures, but that would suggest the home team represented some kind of threat.
The Chicago Bulls were considered the better team before this playoff series. They finally looked like it. They led from 4-0 (timeout!) on. They led by 19 in the second quarter, 13 at halftime and 17 after three. It was never really competitive.
The final score was Bulls 99, Hawks 82, and the only reason it wasn’t worse was that Chicago had to save its legs for at least two more games. Derrick Rose finished with 44 points, at least before everybody stopped counting.
It was only one loss and it’s only a 2-1 series deficit. Somehow, it feels more lopsided.
“They came ready to play, they played harder than we did, and that’s disheartening,” Jamal Crawford said.
Thousands of Bulls fans in attendance chanted, “MVP, MVP,” whenever Rose scored. Welcome home.
It has been a different Chicago team defensively in the last two games. Joe Johnson’s point totals have dropped from 34 to 16 to 10. Crawford’s, from 22 to 11 to 7. Whatever Drew attempted to change up from the Game 2 loss in Chicago didn’t work because Crawford said he was facing numerous double teams and Johnson complained about being “buried in the corner” on picks-and-rolls.
Johnson also said he may have to start “forcing” the issue.
“Coach wants me to give up the ball at times but I can’t give it up every time,” Johnson said. “That’s what they want. It plays into their hands.”
After eliminating Orlando and stunning Chicago in the series opener, there is trouble in paradise. But this might be the reality.
Through two games, it was impossible to tell which team went 62-20 (the Bulls had the best record in the league) and which one went 44-38. Crawford even weighed in on this after Chicago’s Game 2 win at the United Center. He noted that given how desperate the Bulls were to win and had the home crowd and a Rose MVP celebration working in their favor, “If that’s their best shot, we’re in good shape.”
Turns out, that wasn’t their best shot. This was. In the second quarter, Chicago hit 10 of its first 13 shots and its lead ballooned to 19 points (54-35). Rose hit seven of his first nine shots. He already had 21 at the break, which nearly equaled his game totals in the first two meetings (24 and 25, respectively). But it wasn’t just Rose. The Hawks couldn’t defend anybody, not even Taj Gibson (13) or Kyle Korver (11).
Further, they were outworked on the boards. Chicago 18 offensive rebounds and a 47-34 advantage overall, which is a bad combination when you’re trying to reaffirm the home court advantage you established in the Orlando series (the Hawks winning all three home games in the first round).
The Bulls were convinced before the game they had figured a few things out about the Hawks’ defense and how to attack it. “I think we’ll have a little bit of success on the pick and roll,” he said before the game. They did.
It was easy to feel sorry for Jeff Teague, who was trying to stop him. Here’s a second-year guard whose play in this series for the injured Kirk Hinrich has shown he probably should have been playing more minutes this season, back when Mike Bibby was dragging the Hawks down. “I’m probably the only one on the team who’s injury free and fresh because I didn’t have as long of a season as everybody else,” he cracked before the game.
In Game 3, he exuded confidence on offense and scored 11 of the Hawks’ first 16 points and finished with 21 points. But Rose torched him at the other end.
Crawford called it “disheartening.” Al Horford called it “discouraging.” Some merely viewed it as reality arriving. We’ll know soon enough.
By Jeff Schultz