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Matchups: Bulls vs. Hawks preview
by Sam Smith
Posted on May 2
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See, Thibs was right.
All those extra minutes for Deng, not taking Rose out late, pushing big minutes on Kurt Thomas. Do you think Miami and Boston are thinking now how much that No. 1 seed was worth, about getting Atlanta instead of the series everyone wants to see but is going to wear you out. Even watching.
You always assume a team that has gotten to the second round can win a game. But I’m not sure how the Hawks do. I wasn’t even sure before Kirk Hinrich was hurt. Now they play Jamal Crawford at point guard, perhaps more likely Jeff Teague, who played a total of 10 minutes in the first round and made one basket.
The Bulls won two of three from the Hawks this season, though the Hawks stunned the Bulls coming from behind to win the first game. They rarely do that.
The classic Hawks defense was on that game ending three J.J. Redick tried and missed in Game 6. The Magic needed a three to tie and Redick got wide open, perhaps so open he missed as he had so much time. Josh Smith stood with his hands on his hips watching Redick shoot, never even making a move toward him. It’s shocking sometimes to watch the Hawks compared with the furor the Bulls play with. Without their toughest perimeter defender in Hinrich, the Hawks seem to have virtually no chance of holding off Derrick Rose. He could average 50 in this series if coach Tom Thibodeau elected to go that way.
It’s never easy. It requires work, which is why I have so much confidence in the Bulls in this series. The Hawks can outshoot you, and they have superior athletes. But they usually don’t play as hard. Really, only Al Horford and perhaps Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins, the latter two in limited minutes, will give them a tough presence on defense. It’s why in some respects the Pacers’ series may end up to be the tougher one.
The Bulls will have to blitz the pick and rolls when the Hawks aren’t isolating, and they’ll have to pressure and put a body on players. The Hawks will generally opt for the longer shot at those times. They’ll make some, but it’s difficult to see them making enough.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Jeff Teague
Really not fair, though it’s a guess now that Teague starts. Jamal Crawford could as he finished Game 6 at point when Hinrich was hurt. But most teams don’t like to break up the regular rotation, and I remember it killed the Cavs in 1989 when Mark Price was hurt in Game 1 and they put Ron Harper at point guard instead of leaving him at shooting guard. It turned the whole series on its head and probably stretched it enough for Jordan to hit that famous game winner. I suspect Teague would then defend Keith Bogans and Joe Johnson would defend Rose. Or should. I’ve always heard Johnson doesn’t like defending point guards. C’mon! It’s the playoffs. They just paid you $126 million, more than LeBron, Wade or Bosh. Paul George tried it. It would be sad if Johnson did, indeed, refuse. The Pacers had some success putting length in Paul George on Rose, and the Hawks should do that with the 6-7 Johnson. Though you never know with some coaches. I remember George Karl in the 1996 Finals had the Defensive Player of the Year in Gary Payton and didn’t play him against Jordan until Game 4 because he said Payton could get in foul trouble. The ‘Sonics were down 3-0 by then. If the Hawks use that excuse, they’ve surrendered. I know Johnson hasn’t been great, but he was my No. 1 free agent choice last season to team with Rose. I understand going for the low post forward, but I sure would liked to have seen that backcourt.
Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans vs. Joe Johnson
Johnson has a huge edge, though we’ll see how weary he gets bouncing through picks trying to play Rose, if, indeed, he does. I suspect the Hawks will zone some and switch, which always has been a staple of their defense before this season. This would be the series to do that. Let the Bulls try to beat you over the top. I wouldn’t let them drive. They’re going to outrebound you, anyway. I’d play zone the entire game and let them shoot away. See if they can make enough when you are giving them nothing but. It’s not like other than Kyle Korver they are historically great shooters. They’ll play Johnson with Crawford a lot, and that’s two big shooters, which isn’t an easy matchup.
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Josh Smith
Smith has been a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. I think even Churchill thought Smith would be better. He’s sort of the J.R. Smith of forwards. I’m a little sensitive to these undisciplined Smiths, though I understand their suffering. Try ordering a pizza and telling them you are Smith and waiting for delivery. Smith could be a defensive wizard, a Bill Russell sort to block shots and start fast breaks and finish them with élan and panache. Churchill probably was thinking of saying that. But Smith likes to shoot fadeaway jumpers and admire his form. He’ll block some shots, but they usually go out of bounds as he preens. He misses AAU ball. Deng has been solid, “the glue” Thibodeau calls him. He’ll tire out Smith running and cutting and will bother him into stepping out for 30 footers. The Hawks benched Marvin Williams late in the season to go with a bigger lineup, which they felt worked against Dwight Howard. They could go back to starting Williams at small forward in a smaller lineup to try to take advantage of their athletic ability, which is better than the Bulls’. Then Smith moves to power forward, which they might prefer against Carlos Boozer.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Al Horford
I assume Boozer plays after his turf toe injury. I’m not saying it isn’t painful, but this little piggy can’t be going wah, wah, wah all the way home. The Bulls know and Boozer knows they need him to get going to so that special thing they all keep talking about. This might be a series to get going. If he doesn’t play, Thibodeau usually has gone with Kurt Thomas to keep Taj Gibson and the bench in tact, though Thibodeau has used the bench less as a unit in the playoffs. Then Noah would play Horford if they go big or Smith if they go small. Thomas actually does beter against Horford than Noah does as Horford seems to delight in trying to outplay Noah while Horford doesn’t seem to care for Thomas’ bumping. Horford isn’t an easy matchup. But there will be a lot of switching here with Collins a token starter if he does start and Horford wanting to play Noah. If the Hawks start Collins on Noah, Horford will be on Boozer if he plays. That’s a tough matchup, but you can see Boozer getting some stuff going against Pachulia, or at least getting to the foul line.
Center: Joakim Noah vs. Jason Collins
The Hawks had played small with Horford at center earlier in the season, but had success with a bigger lineup with Collins starting, though usually playing about 18 minutes, in the first round and late in the season in benching the unproductive Williams. They’d go to Pachulia, who has a bit of dirty in him, and Horford as well depending on matchups. With the Hawks protecting against Rose, Noah again should have a clear path to the basket with Hawks defensive help on Rose and Noah should do well on the offensive boards, though he needs to go up stronger than in the first round. The Bulls will rotate in Thomas and I’d like to see them use Omer Asik more as his size has bothered Atlanta.
Bench: The Hawks have one of the league’s elite sixth men in Jamal Crawford, though with Hinrich’s injury Crawford will be drafted into more roles and more time. Pachulia is a pest defensively and plays tough. But otherwise there’s not much there. They’ll probably use Damien Wilkins some, but the Bulls have numbers and depth even with Thibodeau cutting back the rotation. Gibson has come on strong and Kyle Korver has been deadly shooting. With the size advantage, the Bulls have a lot of options.
Coaching: Tom Thibodeau vs. Larry Drew
Two rookie coaches, but Thibodeau waited and prepared a lifetime for this and Drew is a nice guy. Thibodeau is coach of the year and has enforced a disciplined system of offense and defense while the Hawks still often play out of control with too much individual, selfish play. Team debates on the court and in the huddle are not uncommon.
Pick: Bulls in four.