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Bulls 99, Hawks 82: D-Rose Scores Career-High 44 in Game 3 Demolition

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The Bulls executed their formula to be invincible. Active, smart defense while dominating the glass, taking care of the basketball, and running the floor left the Hawks no answer at any point of the game to make it look winnable for them. Behind Derrick Rose's career-high 44 points, the Bulls made winning Game 3 look easy to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

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If there was a question as to whether or not the Hawks could 'make a series' out the second round, the question was answered by getting their only chance to win -- knocking down jumpshots -- taken away for the second straight game by the Bulls' team defense. In Game 2, the Hawks regressed from their ball movement in Game 1 to more isolation. This didn't challenge the Bulls' third effort help deficiencies from the game they won. In Game 3, Atlanta's scheme had a lot of ball movement. But the off-ball movement was preempted, as the Bulls were about as prepared as they would want to be.

Atlanta was never able to establish their first or second options in the offense. Jeff Teague had some impressive dribble drives early with 11 first quarter points, but that 23-point quarter was the Hawks' highest. The energy level rose as the Bulls began turning Hawks bricks into transition opportunities and 15 points off Atlanta's ten turnovers. But nothing gets the Bulls stomping the gas without the intention of releasing like alert second and third efforts on help that create bricks and never saying die on their own bricks, for them to dominate the glass, out-rebounding the Hawks 47-34.

Overall, that team that smacked the Hawks around in Atlanta looked like front-runners to win the NBA championship without smelling like fool's gold.

Rose came out on his still-sprained ankle and exploded in his forward motion, continued to shoot when the Atlanta D sagged off, and moved the ball well without passing to the wrong team. All in all, his career-high 44 points (regular season and playoffs) came in bunched that screamed, "UNSTOPPABLE!" with 17 in the first quarter on 7-for-10, 13 in the third on 4-for-9 with a trey and 4-for-5 at the line, and ten in the fourth to put the start shoveling dirt on Atlanta. Overall, he shot 16-for-27 on the game, 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and finally got to the line to go 8-for-9 to go with seven assists and five rebounds. His dominance of the ball (50.5% usage) was most valuable in that it allowed his teammates to rest on offense, so maximum energy was available to continue pounding the Hawks on the defensive end. He only turned the ball over twice for a microscopic 6.1% turnover rate.

"I'm just pushing it," Rose said after the game. "Trying to go for a faster pace.... We just made sure our turnovers were low and we played team basketball."

He added that his confidence was raised by being more aggressive, getting to the line, and countering the Hawks' D by seeing his shots fall. "They were going under [the screens], leaving me wide open on the jumpshot, so why not take it?" he said.

Tom Thibodeau said after the game: "To set the tone, I think we needed him to attack. And again, when he's not dancing with the ball and he's attacking, he's impossible to stop. I thought he caught it on the run, he kept going and going, attacking the basket, wasn't playing around with it, didn't allow them to catch up, kept a lot of pressure on them."

The Bulls controlled the game possession-by-possession. The total possessions of the game don't tell the story of a team that flat-out started running early to dig the Hawks a quick grave  in the first half before slowly lowering the coffin in the second. And the Hawks weren't at any point in the second half very interested in maximizing possessions to kill the deficit that ballooned as high as 19 in the second quarter and 22 in the fourth, Jeff Fogle noted at Hoopdata:

Chicago went for the jugular offensively in the first half,with a strong inside/outside mix that basically had everyone scoring at will against a passive defense. Atlanta had few forced turnovers in the first half, few personal fouls called, and few signs that they were treating the game with a sense of urgency.

[...]

They led by as many as eight in the first quarter, and extended the lead to 19 with 2:49 left in the second quarter.

Garbage time started then for all practical purproses. But it was a slow as molasses garbage time with Chicago running clock before shooting...and Atlanta content to play slowly themselves even though they were way behind. There were only 82 possessions in this game according to the expanded boxscore. That's extremely slow, particularly when one team is down by so much. Again, no sense of urgency.

[...]

Remember to make a mental adjustment for pace when evaluating the Chicago offense. The Bulls scored 99 points in 82 possessions for a stellar 120.7 efficiency rate. And, that's with a quiet 19-point fourth quarter when they were sitting on a lead. Early in the third quarter, John Hollinger of ESPN tweeted that Chicago had complied a 150.0 efficiency mark to that point. That probably best expresses the combination of Chicago's aggressiveness and Atlanta's passiveness.

The Hawks only got inside to go 11-for-17 at the rim. They got to the line for a high free throw rate, but bricked ten charity shots (15-for-25, 60%). The Bulls prevented them from getting inside, but no one other than Jeff Teague (21 pts. on 8-for-13, 5-for-5 on FTs, 4-for-5 at the rim, 41 min.) was particularly inside on trying to do so. Josh Smith (17 pts. on 7-for-14, 13 rebounds, four assists, four blocks, 41 min.) went 4-for-5 at the rim, but continued his basketless streak attempting long-2s he delusionally believes are in his range. After going a combined 0-for-10 on shots at 16-23 feet from the basket in the Games 1 and 2, he bricked all six of his mid-range possession-killers in Game 3.

Joe Johnson (ten pts. on 4-for-12, 38 min.) had a bad game from an efficiency standpoint, but Luol Deng was most heroic in denying Johnson the ball even better than in Game 2. Johnson needs the ball in his hands on a high amount of possessions, even if just to make a second pass. This didn't happen because it couldn't happen and it reflected in his invisible 22.8% usage rate. Jamal Crawford (seven pts. on 3-for-7, 29 min.) tried to put the ball on the floor, as the Bulls weren't letting shots go uncontested, but stopped himself after quick shows by Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson in the paint. Crawford isn't the rim attacker he used to be, but if there was a spot he could hit from, it was around the elbow, but he couldn't get there and only shot 2-for-3 on long-2s and bricked his two 3-point attempts.

  • The Bulls shot the Hawks out of the gym. When the 3s are falling, the Bulls are unstoppable because it's maximum violence against the risk taken by defenses when they sag off and seem to be playing a 2-2-1 zone-man hybrid, obsessed with stopping dribble penetration. The Hawks also don't chase well on screens and couldn't grab a rebound to save their lives, so the Bulls extended their possessions when the Hawks needed the ball in their hands most. I'd love to see a time-of-possession logging of this game because the Bulls' 18 offensive rebounds at a 41.9% rate gave Atlanta no hope to get on offense -- let alone, close the gap.

    The Bulls shot 46.9% from the field, but went off on 3s, hitting 10-of-20 (50%), for a .532 eFG%. They only shot 13-for-25 (52%) at the rim, but the misses were largely putback tip-in attempts where the value came from extending possessions. And Rose was the ball handler using all of the offensive energy, going 6-for-9 at the rim and getting to the FT line. You'd like to see the Bulls go more to the post and abuse the smaller Horford, over-aggressive Smith, and slow Zaza Pachulia, but that easy button never really needing pushing.
  • If the Hawks are going to chuck 50 jumpers and try only six 3s, OK. They shot a respectable 47.2% on 33-for-70, but all buckets aren't created equal and they couldn't get the ball. That said, there were recovery problems from the team, as a whole, after the third efforts where the Hawks were able to convert possessions with some of their best ball movement of the playoffs. Overall, the Hawks were 21-for-50 (42%) on jumpshots -- 9-for-25 (36%) on long-2s and 1-for-6 (16.7%) on 3s.
  • Gibson was a monster. His energy made loose balls look impossible for Atlanta to grab and the young man was rewarded with 26 minutes off the bench. He was the Bulls' second-leading scorer with 13 points on 5-for-9, but his 11 rebounds -- seven offensive -- and two blocks made him an insane force. He was 3-for-4 at the rim and 0-for-3 on long-2s. Amazing how impressive his offense looks when he isn't napping on the perimeter for entire possessions.
  • Carlos Boozer didn't run the floor well, but finally got some lift back. Only six points on 3-for-6 and six rebounds in only 22 minutes, but we saw him get airborne for a couple of solid dunk attempts. Still, he was blocked twice, as it's clear he's using so much energy to get any lift; and it shows in him full cocking his legs to use his thigh and calf muscles to jump more than the spring in his knees being overused to compensate for the turf toe.

    The narrative will be whether or not he should start. It's a good thread or barstool conversation, but largely a noise machine. When Boozer's aggressive, he can attract attention, apply some bumps, and move the ball toward the basket in a way that doesn't suck the air out of the team. His lift and hustle were up. That's something.

    "I thought Carlos played well; he attacked, he was aggressive....I think he's starting to feel better, "Thibs said, adding: "We need him. At the end of the day, he's our most proven playoff player, so as he gets healthy, he'll play better and better."
  • Noah kept pushing the energy button he pushes best. He had a game-high 15 rebounds -- eight offensive -- to go with five blocks and two assists to more than make up for only two points on 1-for-8. He manned the point in the Bulls' UCLA sets to make Teague work more by chasing Rose without the ball and made excellent passes to ignite transition and execute halfcourt sets. With Gibson, there's no hope for opposition getting much of anything -- buckets, rebounds, off-ball cuts, driving lanes -- around the basket when they're clicking. The Hawks lack of motion magnified this.

    Horford was an invisible possession-killer. Only ten points on 5-for-12 and eight rebounds. Noah, Gibson, and Boozer boxed him out with ease to the point where almost quit on jumping. The Bulls, again, denied him the ball when he moved inside and forced him to shoot on the outside by denying others. He shot an embarrassing 1-for-5 on long-2s. That's your starting center, Atlanta.
  • Keith Bogans got physical early and often. He stuck on Crawford and consistently gave him bumps at center court, tangled with him on in-bounds, and read him well to not give him space to shoot. The physicality made Crawford visibly hesitant throughout the game, allowing for Bogans to pounce into positions where he cut off angles. The halfcourt became a quartercourt that became a tiny box to work. Offensively, Bogans scored six on 2-for-6 -- 2-for-4 on 3s -- with a crafty steal in 19 minutes.
  • Rose doesn't want to talk about his ankle anymore, says it's fine, but there's still a little lacking. He's strong and fast and came out with an explosion, but his lateral movements to change directions is still limited. Teague exploited this pretty well on offense, but the Hawks never used traps to cut off angles to exploit this and Rose exploited their risk-aversive defense. So, the ankle is fine, but the team still has the task of moving more off the ball and helping more aggressively than would be normally needed.

    The person with the most need for rest, Deng (seven pts. on 3-for-10, six rebs.), played 42 minutes and never looked winded, though he's played more minutes than any NBA player since the regular season began. Rose's game provided him the rest on offense he needs to be the Bulls primary isolation-help defender. Dominant, unstoppable games like Friday from Rose aid to maximize Deng's defensive capabilities.
  • Kyle Korver brought back the hot sauce. After a brick-tastic Game 2, he scored 11 on 4-for-6, including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers bottles of hot sauce in 18 minutes, but three turnovers (h/t: Sarah Lauch).
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    His eight second quarter points hit to the reasoning behind him not starting. Tom Thibodeau likes Korver most against bench units and starters with minutes under their belt. It best exploits the screens, quick second passes, and lazy recovery to contest his shots. Even better, after Bogans or Ronnie Brewer are frustrating two-guards, they're noticeably more hesitant, giving Korver that extra step to establish an adequate guarding position.
  • There was an Omer Asik sighting. He got 14 minutes, as Kurt Thomas got a night off. Asik needs the minutes and Atlanta's small enough to keep his recently visible slowdown from being a liability. Only one rebound and a block for the Turk. More concerning is he's still ball-aversive. The Bench Mob moves very well off the ball when Asik mans the point on those UCLA sets, but without cutting to the basket as well as he did in the early and mid-season, C.J. Watson just isn't wasting the effort to use him on the pick n' roll as much, unless Watson's looking to better create as the ball handler or attract attention away from a Deng or Korver in the corner.
  • Did I mention D-Rose had a pretty good game?

Game 4 in Atlanta will be Sunday, May 8 at 7:00 CST on TNT.

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