The scoreboard might have said 95-83 but this one felt much closer than that, painfully closer. There is no room for moral victories at this point in the season and we wouldn't even be discussing the fact that the Hawks competed to the end if not for watching them lay down so many times throughout the regular season. Fact is, Atlanta's Game 5 loss now places their backs once again against the wall and this time a loss ends their season.
There is credit to be handed out however, the Hawks went into the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed home building and overcame a sluggish first quarter to take the lead in the second half. It was in the fourth quarter where things seemed to go away for these Hawks as what looked like mental and physical fatigue finally won out.
Other than the play of Jeff Teague, there isn't a lot about the Hawks offense that doesn't look forced. However, they were able to grind it out long enough to give themselves a chance heading into the fourth quarter. In a lot of instances that is all you can ask for in the fourth quarter. Credit the Bulls for turning up the defensive heat in the fourth and with tired legs, Atlanta seemed ok with going to leaning on their jump shot.
I will ask the question again, where would the Hawks be without Jeff Teague in this series? Teague led the way again for the Hawks scoring 21 points while handing out seven assists without a single turnover. Credit Zaza Pachulia for coming off the bench and providing a spark with 13 points in 23 minutes. Josh Smith (16 pts), Joe Johnson (15 pts), and Al Horford (12 pts) found the going much tougher. Smith was once again effective inside and Atlanta still needs to find ways to ensure that he remains closer to the basket.
The fourth quarter was about execution and knowing who to turn to at the appropriate time. Coming down the stretch, Atlanta spent a few possessions being really slow at getting in their offense and allowed the shot clock to become a factor. That suggests that their is indecision still while on the other hand Chicago knew where they were going with the ball and successfully played off of it. Atlanta's struggles in the fourth aren't really anything that we haven't seen before but given the defensive attention that Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford have received in this series, a high screen and roll for Jeff Teague with Horford or Smith could be more effective.
Watching this game live, I couldn't figure out if the Bulls seemed a little bit better or if the Hawks looked just a half step slow. After thinking about it for a while, it looked like Chicago came out with a lot of energy in the first quarter with Atlanta failing to match it. The Hawks caught themselves up by digging in defensively over the second and third quarters but then appeared to fatigue down the stretch. The biggest key for Chicago in my opinion was coming out in the first quarter and looking to establish other players other than Rose. Deng ended with 18 shot attempts and Boozer with 11 despite sitting out the stretch run.
The stats were pretty close across the board in this game with Atlanta hitting on 48 percent of its shots and Chicago hitting on 49 percent. Atlanta was reasonably close in rebounding with Chicago having a 37-33 edge. The Hawks recorded 20 assists while the Bulls had 21. The differences were in free throws made and attempted where Chicago converted 21-28 and Atlanta was 14-17. Chicago had a slight 50-42 advantage in points in the paint. Another interesting stat was Chicago scored 17 points off of 11 Hawks turnovers while Atlanta only managed seven points off of 11 turnovers by the Bulls. That in itself reflects which team got more easy baskets.
Heading to Game 6
We predicted before the series began that it would go seven games and it is certainly setting up that way. The series turned physical in Game 5 and I don't expect that to change. A good example was the cheap shot that Carlos Boozer took on Josh Smith after a Smith dunk where Boozer landed an elbow to the face. Smith retaliated with a push in the back and both players received double techs. Boozer's offense was enough to warrant an ejection in my opinion but the first person to land the punch isn't always the one to get caught. That is playoff basketball and both of these teams are probably growing tired of seeing each other after battling for five games.
I expect a raucous Philips Arena crowd for Game 5 and a spirited Hawks team to come looking for a fight. At this point in the season you can't do anything but take each game one at a time. If the Hawks can prevent this series from ending on their home floor and push it to a Game 7 then perhaps the younger Bulls team will feel the pressure of being expected to win. The Hawks are down but this series isn't over yet.