The Chicago Bulls: A few Bulls fans got pissy with me for something I wrote in a recent ESPN 5-on-5.
"On a scale from 0 to 100, what are the Hawks' chances?"
My partial answer:
"My gut says 50 because the Hawks are such a 50-50 team: with so much potential but so enigmatic."
On my By The Horns blog, one commenter said: "There is no way you should write for the Bulls if you say the hawks have a 50 percent chance of winning this series wtf."
Look, I wasn't trying to rag on the Bulls or anything, but the Hawks are one of those trick-or-treat teams. Some nights, they look like the champions in warmups. Other nights, they look like the Clippers. That's how it is with streaky jump shooting teams. If they get hot, they can beat anybody...
...and they were hot last night.
The 120 Million Dollar Man left third degree burns all over anybody who dared guard him. Joe Cool finished with 34 points on 12-for-18 shooting, going 5-for-5 from downtown and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Former Bull Jamal Crawford added 22 points on 8-for-16 from the field, 2-for-4 from beyond he arc and 4-for-4 from the foul line.
As a team, the Hawks went 14-for-21 at the rim (66 percent). They went 7-for-13 from three-point range (54 percent) and converted 26 of their 57 jumpers overall (46 percent). Atlanta finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 55.8 percent and an Offensive Efficiency of 115.7.
That's funny. I'd heard rumors that the Bulls are the league's best defensive team.
Outside of the defense, Chicago's most significant advantage over Atlanta -- offensive rebounding -- was negated as the teams finished almost dead even in Offensive Rebound Percentage and second-chance points: Bulls 25.6 percent and 12, Hawks 25.0 percent and 11.
And, despite the presence of Derrick Rose, Atlanta finished with a higher Free Throw Rate (25.6) than Chicago (19.3).
Or maybe I should say because of Rose. If your stomach is at all queasy, I suggest not reviewing the Great Poohdini's shooting stats: 11-for-27 from the field, 2-for-7 from downtown, 0-for-0 from the free throw line.
He began the game 0-for-7. Clink. Clank. Clunk.
Rose -- who, according to a source, will be named MVP today -- had an otherwise strong game (24 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a blocked shot). But his ankle is gimpier than the guy locked up in Zed's basement. Derrick couldn't explode into defenders to draw the contact necessary to earn a whistle. And, to make matters worse, he further tweaked the ankle stepping on Crawford's foot with only six seconds left and the game already decided.
Way too many jumpers. Not nearly enough drives.
Said Rose: "I don't know why I didn't keep attacking the basket."
It could have been, and probably was, the ankle. Of course, Atlanta had a nice game plan, too. They -- as so many teams before them -- clogged the paint and dared the Bulls to make outside shots. Chicago was decent from beyond the arc (8-for-18) but went a miserable 4-for-18 (22.3 percent) from 16-23 feet. Almost as bad was the fact that the Bulls missed 15 of their 30 attempts at the rim. Rose missed five of his nine bunnies.
Chicago's most critical failure was in intensity, especially on defense. During the regular season, this team challenged every single shot. Last night, the Hawks got pretty much any shot they wanted. During the regular season, Chicago's defense got stronger as the game went along. Last night, Atlanta scored 31 points in the fourth quarter.
Said Bulls coach and NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau: "The intensity wasn't right. The start of the game was poor in terms of ball direction, in terms of challenging shots, in terms of showing help. There wasn't one aspect of the defense that was good. They're too good of a team to play like that."
It was a stunning performance. Or non-performance, depending on your outlook. In the opening round, the Bulls were clearly caught off guard by the intensity and tenacity displayed by the Pacers. Through the first four games anyway. By Game 5, though, the team was finally ready for it. The players had taken it...now they were ready to dish it out. Which, I thought at the time, seemed like a pretty good sign for round two.
Apparently, I was way off in that assessment. In the first quarter, the Bulls played far too relaxed, like they were waiting for the game to come to them. Meanwhile, the Hawks were trying to take the game by the throat. They began the game with a 9-0 run and led 28-18 after 12 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, when Atlanta built a solid (but not insurmountable) lead, players started hanging their heads and looking beaten.
Okay, maybe it was more frustration than defeat, but it sure wasn't the "never say die" team that won 62 games during the regular season. And the fact that Rose couldn't dominate the action late in the game seemed to take the wind out of his teammates sails.
Said Joakim Noah: "It's tough when your best player is limping off the court with an injury that you know he's had before. It's tough, but right now, we have a game on Wednesday in less than 48 hours."
That's right, Jo, you guys do have a game in less than 48 hours. And you need to get your stuff together. Of course, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a young team that hasn't been tested in the playoffs yet. No amount of film study or preparation in practice can substitute for experience. The Hawks aren't as good as the Bulls...but they've been through this together.
The Bulls haven't.
And if they don't get their shit together, their playoff experience is gonna end really soon.
Update! The dickery of the Atlanta Hawks: Basketbawful reader The Other Chris:
I felt like crap last night and went to bed just after the start of the 3rd quarter between Chicago and Atlanta, assuming that with a 56-51 lead and all the momentum, Chicago would put the hammer down and cruise to an easy victory.
And the Lakers lost.
And Canada elected a Stephen Harper majority government.
A lot of crazy shit happens while you're sleeping, sometimes.
The Los Angeles Lakers: Man, the way the first half ended was so Dallas Mavericks-y that I was absolutely certain the Mavs' annual playoff meltdown was underway.
With 2:31 left in the second quarter, Jason Terry drilled a 21-footer to give Dallas a 42-39 lead. The Lakers proceeded to go on a 14-2 run that was capped off in true Mavericks fashion. First, Jason Terry fouled Lamar Odom on a half-court heave with less than a second to go.
Yes, it was a pretty bogus call, all things considered. But you know what? Let Odom chuck it from 50+ feet. Challenge but don't get in his grill. Terry got to close and the call was made. The officials reviewed the play to make sure the foul happened before time expired...and the look on Terry's face during that review was priceless. I wish I had a screen capture of it.
So Odom got three foul shots and he hit 'em all. That should have been the end of it. But, of course, it wasn't. As Dirk Nowitzki tried to block out Ron Artest, Mr. Citizenship drove his ass into Dirk's lower body, forcing him under the basket. That's a foul, by the way, because you're not allowed to push someone with inside position out of the way. No foul was called, however, and Nowitzki retaliated by swinging an elbow into Artest's back.
Technical foul. Kobe calmly knocked down the freebie and the half ended Lakers 53, Mavericks 44.
I genuinely thought that was the game. Forget the fact that there were 24 minutes left. This was going t be yet another example of Dallas players losing their cool and blowing a winnable game.
Only they didn't blow the game. They stole it.
After falling behind by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, the Mavs came back to life. By the end of the quarter, L.A.'s lead was down to seven. And then Dallas really turned it on in the fourth, shooting 10-for-19 from the field and outscoring the Lakers 25-16.
Oh, and Herr Dirk took a huge, steaming dump all over the "anti-clutch" tag that people (myself included) have stuck on him over the years. Nowitzki scored 11 points in the final 12 minutes and hit the go-ahead free throws with 19.5 seconds left. You wanna know how Dirk earned those free throws? Pau Gasol badly overplayed him on an inbounds pass and fouled him in a very obvious way.
Nowitzki's thespian skills helped. But still.
Gasol wasn't done effing up. On the ensuing possession, with his team down by a single point, Pau was trying to hand a pass off to Kobe Bryant when Bryant tripped over his own feet and bumped the ball on his way to the hardwood. For a second, it looked like Gasol would retain possession, but the ball squirted loose, Jason Kidd came up with it, and Gasol was forced to foul.
Kidd went only 1-for-2 at the line, giving the Lakers a chance to tie or win with a three. Kobe got wide open for a three, thank to wonderful moving pick by Andrew Bynum, but he missed.
And the Mavericks won.
Said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle: "You've got to mke plays, and you've got to dodge some bullets. We did both."
Added L.A. coach Phil Jackson: "We felt like we gave the game away. I'm not so sure Dallas didn't outplay us, but the players felt like we gave it away. ... The game was won in the third quarter when we got the lead and stopped playing defense and stopped playing offense. It took a lot of energy out of us and gave a lot of energy to them."
Countered Shawn Marion: "We did well, but I think we can do better. Is there anybody that knows we play good D?"
I guess we all know now. The Lakers shot only 42 percent and went 5-for-19 from downtown. And they scored only 16 points in the decisive fourth quarter. At home.
Of course, their offensive woes might have been because of their game plan as much as it was because of the Dallas D. According to ESPN Stats and Information:
In the first half of Game 1, the Lakers attempted 25 of their 42 field goals within 10 feet of the basket. In the second half, the Lakers stopped going inside as often, attempting 15 of their 42 field goals within 10 feet. The Lakers shot 50.0 percent within 10 feet on the game.
Andrew Bynum shot 70.4 percent (19-of-27) against the Mavericks in the regular season, but the Lakers shied away from him in Game 1. Bynum was on the floor for 59 of the Lakers' 101 possessions (58.4 pct) and had a touch on just 18 of those possessions (30.5 pct). Bynum was utilized much less frequently than his big counterpart Pau Gasol, who played 74.3 percent of the Lakers possessions and got a touch on 52.0 percent of them.
This is where I point out (once again it seems) that Kobe attempted 29 shots while the rest of the L.A. starters combined for 32. I also need to remind everybody that the Lakers didn't turn their series with the Hornets around until they started utilizing their biggest advantages. Namely, size and inside scoring.
For your reading pleasure, here's L.A.'s crunch time (final five minutes) offensive possessions.
Kobe missed three-pointer; Ron Artest offensive rebound and missed tip shot; Kobe missed jumper (blocked by Tyson Chandler); Kobe made 17-footer; Kobe missed 19-footer; Derek Fisher missed three-pointer; Lamar Odom offensive rebound; Gasol missed jumper (blocked by Chandler); Kobe made 11-footer; Kobe turnover; Gasol turnover; Kobe missed three-pointer.
29 shot attempts. 3 turnovers. 0 assists. 2-for-6 with a TO in the final five minutes. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report:
Hawks-Bulls: Kurt Thomas fouled once for a +1 in 1:58 and a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl.
Mavs-Lakers: Brendan Haywood hung 100% on the field goals from one attempt) in 13:11, only to foul four times for a 4:2 Voskuhl.