Chicago Bulls: Three Are Key in Game 2 vs. Atlanta Hawks
That wasn't the way NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau drew it up.
Yesterday's 103-95 defeat against the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals shocked most NBA observers and raised more questions about how deep a playoff run the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls can actually make.
The Hawks, disrespected in most NBA circles despite their series victory over the Orlando Magic, out-played the Bulls for the majority of the night and looked very much like a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Led by All-Star Joe Johnson (34 points) and sixth-man-extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (22 points), the Hawks ran away from the Bulls in the fourth quarter, but shot a blistering 51.3 percent from the field for the game—the Bulls regular season opponents' field goal percentage was an NBA-best .430.
Never mind the concern Chicago must now have with MVP Derrick Rose's injured ankle—they'll need to get back to their sound, disciplined defensive approach Wednesday and attack the basket more on offense, rather than settle for long jump-shots.
These three players will be key to a Bulls victory in Game 2 Wednesday night at the United Center.
I didn't include Derrick Rose as one of the three Bulls players to watch, but he is obviously the key to a series victory.
It's the "others" that need to step up.
Bogans, despite averaging just 19 minutes-per-game, could be a key in Game 2 versus the Hawks.
Bogans doesn't provide much help on the offensive end (his 15-point effort in Game Five against the Indiana Pacers was most definitely a fluke), but he can help out tremendously on defense.
Particularly, against suddenly red-hot Joe Johnson.
Johnson, simply put, torched the Bulls in Game One, connecting on 12-of-18 field goal shooting, including a perfect five-for-five from beyond the arc (he was also perfect from the charity stripe, hitting five-of-five).
Bogans, at 6'5", 215 pounds, has the ability to match-up with the 6'8" Johnson and has the freedom to over-exert himself on defense, knowing that not much is to be expected of him on offense.
Whereas most players will work themselves into a frenzy on offense, and take defensive possessions off, Bogans is the opposite.
Luol Deng is a capable defender, but he was abused several times by Johnson and a lack-of-communication among other Bulls defenders.
Deng is valuable on both ends of the court for the Bulls, but he'll have less responsibility on defense if Bogans draws the most coverage of Johnson—which would give Deng more rest and space for offense.
Tom Thibodeau should give heavy consideration to increasing Bogans' minutes for Game 2 and having him shadow Johnson.
Boozer was not his usual 20-point, 10-rebound self in the first round of the playoffs against Indiana, but it was revealed that Boozer was playing with an injured toe during the series.
He is a key ingredient to any success the Bulls might find in the 2011 playoffs; he took small steps in Game 1 to get back on track in chipping in 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
That's still not the level of production Bulls fans want from a two-time All-Star who earns over $14 million a year, but it hopefully serves as a confidence boost.
Boozer, averaging just 10.7 points-per-game in the post-season, could be even more important to the Bulls if Derrick Rose is limited in any way with his injured ankle.
We saw Rose lack explosiveness off the drive when he was initially hurt against the Pacers in Game 4, and how the Bulls offense went into a funk without its catalyst.
Should Rose perform the same way in Game Two, Boozer will need to step up and contribute points.
He found a nice offensive rhythm in the third quarter, scoring six consecutive points in a sequence for the Bulls—and Boozer shot over 50 percent for the game.
He'll also need to continue to clean the glass and rebound effectively.
He could use some help from another Bulls big man in that regard.
Noah played good enough in Monday's Game 1, scoring 11 points to go along with nine rebounds, but seemed to lack energy and focus at times.
Noah is the team's spark-plug, but he was unable to fire up the United Center crowd by providing any electric plays—something Noah is now known for in Bulls playoff games.
He lost his cool towards the end of the game and was given a technical foul for arguing a possible foul with a referee and was as big a reason as any the Bulls played their up-and-down (mostly down) game.
What's most alarming about Noah's play was the fact that the Hawks actually out-rebounded the Bulls (albeit by the slimmest of margins, 38 to 37).
Keep in mind, the Bulls were the second-best rebounding team in the league during the regular season (over 44 a game) while the Hawks were tied for the third-worst (with the Portland Trail Blazers at 39.3 rebounds-per-game).
The supposed team rebounding advantage for the Bulls never materialized in Game 1, but it must emerge as the series progresses for the Bulls' sake.
Noah is a double-digit-per-game rebounder and—teamed with Boozer—forms the most dynamic front court in the Eastern Conference.
Much like the Bulls won't ask Keith Bogans to do much offensively, they'll primarily be looking to Noah for rebounding and defensive production—any help on offense is just icing on the cake.
Hawks forward/center Al Horford had a quiet Game 1 offensively (nine points), but out-rebounded his former Florida Gator teammate (13 to nine).
That will be one of the key match-ups from here on out.
Game 2 is going to be interesting after Atlanta stole the first game in the best-of-seven series.
Watch for these three Bulls players to respond positively to the challenge and send the series to Atlanta tied up.
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