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Bulls Tue May 03 2011

Atlanta Surprises Bulls in Game 1

Well, at least someone out there last night earned his outrageous contract.

Thumbnail image for bulls hawks series logo.PNGJoe Johnson, Atlanta's $123 million man, hit all five of his 3-point attempts en route to 34 points, leading the hot-shooting Hawks past Chicago last night in Game 1, 103-95.

It was, to say the least, a wake-up call for the top-seeded Bulls, as the fifth-seeded Hawks showed a determination to win it from the start. With Atlanta racing off to a 9-0 lead, the first quarter was a demonstration of masonry by soon-to-be-named-MVP Derrick Rose, who missed his first seven shots before finally getting a layup deep into the second quarter. Unfortunately for Chicago, his poor shooting was the least of their troubles.

Against a Bulls team known for its defensive prowess, the Hawks shot 51 percent from the field, including 53 percent from behind the arc. They shot 58 percent in the first half, and it was only with a second quarter run by the reserves that the Bulls were able to pull within one point at halftime.

But the Hawks reasserted themselves in the second half, taking control for good with a 15-2 run across the third and fourth quarters. And then, with five inconsequential seconds remaining, Rose rolled his troublesome left ankle. He needed assistance to get back to the locker room.

Along with Johnson, Jamal Crawford came off the Atlanta bench to score 22 points, while rookie point guard Jeff Teague acquitted himself admirably in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich, scoring 10 points and making Rose work for every shot.

Atlanta double-teamed Rose a lot, but even when he got his shot off they still wouldn't fall. Still, Rose led all Bulls scorers with 24 points, but on 11-of-27 shooting. More noticeably, he didn't get to the foul line at all, again due to double teams reaching him on the outside and preventing drives to the hoop.

Luol Deng played well, scoring 21 points on 8-12 shooting with six rebounds, while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were, to say the least, average. Kyle Korver found his outside touch, sinking 3 of 4 from the 3-point line. On the whole, Chicago ended up overcoming their terrible start to end up shooting 44 percent from the field, but it didn't matter because Atlanta seemingly couldn't miss.

This, aside from the obvious film class 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau has for his team tomorrow, is the biggest lesson Chicago needs to realize: the Atlanta Hawks just displayed the type of merciless play that Chicago has had trouble with during the season. Several times in the fourth quarter the Bulls would hit a great shot, and you could see the energy pick up in fans and players alike--only to see Atlanta go down the floor and have Atlanta hold serve with a shot of their own.

The Hawks refused to let Chicago come back like we've seen in so many games this season, and with coolness and confidence continued to execute their game plan. If the Bulls had any hopes of finishing games off like they did against Indiana, when a young, inexperienced team eventually succumbed to their pressure, Atlanta sure snuffed them out for at least one night.

Game Two is Wednesday night, though Bulls fans will be holding their breath until then to see how Rose's ankle feels. Regardless, for Chicago to have any hope of tying things up, they'll need him to not only be healthy, but bring his shooting touch next time as well.

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