It was a surreal scene inside United Center on Monday night. The normally raucous crowd sat quietly in the closing moments as the Chicago Bulls looked ordinary and sub par at times against the upstart Atlanta Hawks, losing Game 1 at home,103-95.
After a season where the team took giant steps in the right direction: 62 wins, led by the youngest MVP in league history, never lost more than two games in a row (only did it four times), all the while incorporating a new roster and coaching staff. It’s funny how one game can make none of it matter, the feeling of discomfort now palpable in Chicago.
Not to take anything away from the Hawks, it’s just that no one expected this from them. When you’re a team that hovers around .500 every year and gets ousted in four or five games in the second round every year like clockwork, who’s to expect a performance like the one we saw in Game 1.
Who knew Joe Johnson cared enough to will his team to a road win (34 points, 5-5 from the 3 point line)? Hell, in this one game he earned that monstrosity of a deal he signed in the off season (6 years, $119 Million), well maybe not.
The Bulls looked lost at times and Derrick Rose looked hobbled on his tender ankle, re-injuring it right at the end of Game 1; his health will be the main focus in Chicago on Tuesday leading up to Game 2 Wednesday night.
“We’re the team nobody talks about” Atlanta shooting guard and former Sixth-Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford said after Game 1 (22 points). Which is true; to many, Atlanta has been an afterthought all season, a team not ready or able to take the next step into the upper echelon in the Eastern Conference.
After beating Orlando in six games (and officially starting the Dwight Howard is leaving Orlando countdown) Atlanta proved they are hungry for more, and, more importantly, that they’ve learned lessons from playoffs past. This is the same Hawks team that needed seven games to beat a beleaguered and injured Milwaukee team in the first round last year, then they got swept by Orlando.
True, this is only one game, and the easiest game for an underdog to steal in any series has always been Game 1, so perhaps Chicago will wake up (Carlos Boozer will realize he’s a professional basketball player) and they’ll take care of the Hawks in five or six games. But, this series has seven games written all over it now.
The match-ups are there; player for player the Hawks can (and did) match up with the Bulls:
- At the point position there’s Jeff Teague (2nd year player out of Wake Forrest) and Kirk Heinrich (injured now, but a great on-ball defender); Teague’s speed and Heinrich (if he returns) can, at the very least, slow down D-Rose and make him a jump shooter (11-27, no trips to the foul line in Game 1). Still, Advantage: Bulls
- Joe Johnson is better than any shooting guard the Bulls have had since Jordan left, then factor in Jamal Crawford (56 points combined in G1) and this is where the Hawks can really exploit the Bulls. Advantage: Hawks
- Marvin Williams starts at Small Forward, but Johnson slides down when Crawford checks in the game. Luol Deng played a solid Game 1 (21 points) and will need to continue scoring as he has been the only other Bull helping Rose consistently. Advantage: Bulls
- Josh Smith is a physical guy, tremendous athlete, and he’s matured as a player the past two seasons. Boozer needs to assert himself more for the Bulls to be successful, if Boozer wins this match-up the Bulls win the series. But for now: Advantage: Hawks
- Al Horford versus Joakim Noah puts two former Florida Gators, former teammates, and former National Champions against each other. Horford’s the more gifted offensive player, but never count Noah out in any match up; this one’s a Push.
In Game 2, while you’re watching to see exactly how healthy D-Rose’s ankle is, watch these match-ups unfold. It won’t just be in the scoring column, watch rebounds, defense, and passing; a player may not score a single basket in the game, but if he defends with purpose and rebounds his position he could very well win his match-up. Whichever team wins three out of the five postion match-ups will win the game.
This Hawks team is tired of being overlooked and this series is their potential coming out party. Losing Game 1 isn’t the end of the world for the Bulls, losing Game 2 would spell disaster (the Hawks have a very good recent home playoff record). Look for the Bulls to play with urgency as they defend their home court in Game 2 and send the series to ATL tied 1-1.
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.