Ok, so that just happened. The game situation never was comfortable for the Bulls, even in the rare times they actually had the lead. As Sam Smith noted before the series, as much as the Hawks have earned a reputation for being quitters, it's hard to have a team roll over dead when you never put them down in the first place. The Bulls found themselves in a quick 9-0 hole to start the game, and never put Atlanta in a position to where their purported lack of effort when discouraged would be an issue.
But maybe that needs to be reevaluated as we're in a new season. The Hawks may have had some embarrassing home losses in the regular season, but these are realer stakes, especially for a group that's lost in this round each of the past two seasons. I don't think we can expect them to just quit, especially if never given the proper opportunity.
Another thing we did expect from them, though pretty much received, was terrible shot selection. Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith were especially notable culprits, and Smith's propensity for jumpshots are what got the the Bulls the lead in the 3rd quarter as they were able to run off of the rebounds. But again, the Bulls weren't able to pull comfortably away (finishing that quarter even), and while a team like the Pacers can be more easily clamped down upon with their lack of shot-creators, the Hawks are used to playing every possession like their structured offense has been taken away. Joe Johnson was spectacular on any defender the Bulls threw at him (Bogans did alright, but he's Bogans. JJ finished with 34 points on 18 shots, 5-5 from three), Crawford's eyes lit up whenever he saw Kyle Korver guarding him, and when even Smith hit a baseline jumper late in the 4th, it looked like it was the Hawks night.
And some of it was just it being their night. They were nearly 54% from 3, and while there were an uncharacteristic amount of inside rotation breakdowns, the Bulls defense looked solid on an abundance of outside attempts that were well contested. But that's sort of what the Hawks do. These nights can happen, the key for the Bulls is to get a lead such that it won't matter.
So why couldn't they? The Bulls dominated the Hawks in their season series on the offensive glass. They were able to overcome bad shooting in round one because they lived at the line. Tonight they played even on the boards, and the Bulls were actually surpassed at getting to the line, with the most amazing part being Derrick Rose finishing with zero free throw attempts. Postgame it felt like he wasn't there often, but I figured he only went around 4 times (this is why stats are good, friends)....ZERO seems unfathomable, and now it makes sense when in the 3rd quarter why he tried to take Ronnie Brewer's flagrant FTs: Maybe just wanted to hear the chants?
The ankle seems like an easy excuse, but if it was bothering him to the point where he wasn't driving as much by design, then the fact that he reaggravated it in the game's final play makes things pretty scary. It's not even as much how Rose and the team downplays the significance of this latest tweak, it's that after nearly a week of rest it was so easily re-injured. Makes it more likely to be something that will last all playoffs, and especially in a series where there is only one day off between each game. During game one, there were enough wow moments from Rose in transition to where it's hard to say the ankle was bothering him that much, but I won't dismiss some physical confidence issue that made him so likely to settle on the outside. To the Hawks credit, especially Jeff Teague (who played 44 minutes), the result of Rose staying on the outside and not getting fouled was their design as well. But usually Derrick Rose lays waste to the best laid plans of defenders, so it's possibly something more.
Rose finished with a quality line but not a superlative one, which put pressure on the non-Roses...with mixed results. Luol Deng had an amazing first half, Carlos Boozer had a solid 3rd quarter (a post-up! a dunk!) , and Noah's productive stints were not long or often enough (finished with 1 offensive rebound, which is the backbone to his productivity). Korver went 3-4 from three. Overall, the Bulls did not have a bad offensive game (for reference, an offensive rating at 109 is top-10 in this regular season), they just weren't enough considering what the Hawks were able to manage against them.
On the positive side, the bench mob made had its first real effective stint in these playoffs, with old friends like Omer Asik giving real quality minutes in a 2nd quarter stretch that dug the Bulls out of their early deficit. Thibs tried the strategy again to start the 4th (lately he had been leaving Rose in at that time in games) but quickly abandoned it after 5 straight Atlanta points. Maybe such a hook could be considered too hasty, but as we need to recognize that maybe this playoff series won't go as expected when it comes to the Hawks attitude, it also won't be comparable to the regular season in the massive difference in depth. The bench matters less when the other team won't play theirs, though even truly scrubby Hawks like Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, and Damien Wilkins provided productive minutes.
So maybe it was their night. But as Orlando fans were quick to remind me, the Hawks had 4 such nights against their team. The Bulls may have been able to overcome poor play in round one, but the expected beatdown of Atlanta was based on the assumption that the Bulls would play at a higher level than they did in that round. Tonight wasn't really it, and the Hawks are better than the Pacers. And now we have a series.