Hawks Shock Bulls

by Jeff Fogle 3. May 2011 00:16

If there was one second round series in the NBA Playoffs that was going to be a walkover, it was Atlanta/Chicago. Most pundits picked the Bulls to win in four or five games. Those who picked Chicago in five weren't thinking rested Chicago was going to lose at home right out of the gate! We now have TWO series favorites in the first two days who must win back home court advantage...

Atlanta's win over Chicago wasn't as big a surprise as Memphis over Oklahoma City in terms of victory margin. But the Hawks were the bigger underdog at tip-off. In fact, they were just as big an underdog here as they were in Orlando. Funny how that worked out:

Atlanta 103, Orlando 93 opening Round One
Atlanta 103, Chicago 95 opening Round Two

Atlanta wouldn't break 100 points again in the Orlando series, though they would go on to win four games to two. Actually, they wouldn't even break 90 again! Atlanta scored 82-88-88-76-84 in the last five games. Given the caliber of Chicago's defense, it wouldn't be surprising to see a replay of that as well. Can Atlanta win low scoring games against Chicago? Games where they don't shoot over 50% on two's and three's?

I'll get to the game stats in a moment. I wanted to lead with what I think are the most important numbers from tonight's game. See if you can recognize what these are:


Those are Derrick Rose's free throw numbers in chronological order through the playoffs. The first five games are from the Indiana series obviously. The double goose-eggs are from tonight.

Can you tell when he first injured his ankle?! That happened in the first quarter of Game Four. He played hobbled the rest of the way, and couldn't draw fouls because he couldn't explode at the basket. That was the only game Chicago lost in the series. He picked up the pace a little bit in Game Five. But, the Bulls shot lights out from long range (14 of 31) and won a blowout where Rose didn't need to be much of a factor.

Tonight, he didn't seem hobbled by any means. But, he wasn't able to explode INTO mighty mite Jeff Teague or whoever was guarding him at the time. He could drive and shoot (9 of 20 on two-pointers). He could drive and pass (10 assists). But, he couldn't drive and draw fouls. As a result, he ended with 24 points on 27 shots (including 2 of 7 on treys). Given the limited margin for error in most of Chicago's recent wins, that's a glaring concern.

And then he sprained the same ankle again in the final seconds!

That's why those numbers are more important than the game stats to me. If Rose can't get to the free throw line, this is going to be a series. If Rose continues to break down from the wear/tear/fatigue issues that come from sprinting into a lion's den to get mauled every night for four months (he started really attacking the rim around New Year's)...then top seeded Chicago might actually be in real trouble.

This series goes:

That's every other day through the first six games (also the case in Mavs/Lakers, which is why Dallas is hoping they can tire out the Lakers--as referenced by Mark Cuban in a comment below the second round previews posted a few days ago). There's little recovery time for injuries. If somebody on Memphis or OKC sprains an ankle Tuesday night, they don't play again until Saturday. Derrick Rose has to come back Wednesday after limping off the court tonight. Then, if he can, play again Friday and Sunday.

Now let's run the numbers...

2-point pct: Atlanta 51%, Chicago 45%
3-pointers: Atlanta 7/13, Chicago 8/18
Rebounds: Atlanta 38, Chicago 37
Turnovers: Atlanta 10, Chicago 11
1's and 2's: Atlanta 82, Chicago 71

Both teams shot well from long range. This was actually a very cleanly played game for the Eastern Conference! Probably a tease based on what happened with these two teams in the prior round.

Chicago/Indiana: 203, 186, 172, 173, 215
Atlanta/Orlando: 196, 170, 172, 173, 177, 165

They averaged near 200 in the openers, then dropped mostly into the 170's until the Bulls had that big game from behind the arc to finish off the Pacers.

Individually, Joe Johnson will have trouble replicating his 34 points on 12 of 18 from the floor and 5 of 5 on treys. But, it' s not like Atlanta won this game with treys. Chicago outscored them from behind the arc. Atlanta won scoring on 1's and 2's, rebounding, and turnovers. On the road.

We'll have to see how Rose recovers from tonight's late tweak. He's listed as "day-to-day" as of halftime of Mavs/Lakers. That game started and ended too late for commentary this evening. I'll run the key stats in our Tuesday night report.

Oh, we have expanded boxscores!

Game One of Memphis/Oklahoma City is here
Game One of Boston/Miami is here
Game One of Atlanta/Chicago is here

See you late Tuesday...

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5/3/2011 11:50:22 AM #


"We now have TWO series favorites in the first two days who must win back home court advantage... "

Make it three!  Looking forward to the LA-Dalas post-mortem...

"If Rose continues to break down from the wear/tear/fatigue issues that come from sprinting into a lion's den to get mauled every night for four months (he started really attacking the rim around New Year's)...then top seeded Chicago might actually be in real trouble."

The way I remember it, Hollinger and other apebears started pointing out Rose's low free throw rate sometime in Winter and it quickly 'rose', almost as if he or Thibodeau (or the refs?!) had read the criticism and made an adjustment.  

In which case we can blame Hollinger for the ankle issues, right?  A hard-driving Rose won the Bulls the one seed and himself the MVP, but he might have held up better in the playoffs with less of the rough stuff.  Somebody cancel Rose's ESPN insider account before any more damage is done!


Atlanta is a fun team for apebear analysis or in-depth analysis.  Zach Lowe at the point forward has a good post today on the Hawks' smart strategy for defending Rose.  When it comes to offense or coaching however, Atlanta gets more second-guessing than any other playoff team.

For one, they rely on winning the long-jumpshot battle to win the war (game one: Hawks 11-26 on long twos, Bulls 4-18).  Jamal Crawford is the best example of the Hawks' love affair with the long two, although Josh Smith has his famous flirtations with the shot.

Crawford was 3-3 at the rim, and 2-4 from three... but 2-7 from the 16 foot - 23 foot range.  Joe Johnson was 5-8 from that range, and 5-5 from three.  Johnson and Crawford aren't afraid to take threes off the dribble either which are much harder to make than the catch-and-shoot variety.  Atlanta needs to find a good balance of inside and outside scoring before the reversion to the mean.

Greyberger United States

5/3/2011 1:30:16 PM #

Joe Patrick

Jeff, are there expanded box scores somewhere on your site for the rest of the first round of the Playoffs?  

Joe Patrick United States

5/5/2011 12:07:08 AM #

Jeff Fogle

Sorry I didn't get to respond sooner Greyberger. Not sure if we can blame Hollinger or not. If I recall, his article came out around December 12-13th. Rose had low free throw totals until New Year's...when he then ignited to become the force at the line that we've seen ever since. Maybe he read the article over Christmas Break. Or, maybe they were waiting for a certain point on the calendar to turn things up knowing that he couldn't go 82 games that hard.

You can certainly see why so many veteran teams try to pace themselves for the playoffs (which may be part of why Rose impressed so many MVP voters, he was going at full speed down the stretch while others were pacing themselves). Bulls may get away with it anyway.

Jeff Fogle United States

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