Not a lot of people were giving the Atlanta Hawks much of a chance in Game 1 and even less were giving them a chance in the series. After last night's 103-95 victory over the Bulls in Chicago, the Hawks have served notice that this isn't the same team that got blown out of the building in last year's second round of the playoffs. No this collection of Hawks looks dare I say, confident. Atlanta jumped out to an early lead last night on the Bulls, saw that lead deteriorate in the second quarter and then fell behind in the third. The Hawks then used a 15-2 run over the final moments of the third and the early part of the fourth to take back control of the game. When Chicago made their run, Atlanta never blinked, they instead shored up the shot selection somewhat and picked back up the defense which carried them to victory.
Coming into this game, much was discussed about how Larry Drew would choose to play this series without Kirk Hinrich available to chase Derrick Rose around. It was expected that Jeff Teague would start but it wasn't a given what kind of impact or how much time he would possibly get. Teague ended up setting the tone for Atlanta defensively as he drew the difficult assignment of chasing around Derrick Rose for much of the night. Rose finished the game with 24 points and 10 assists but needed 27 shot attempts to do so. He was just 2-7 from three point range and most impressively did not attempt a free throw in the game. I suspected coming in that Atlanta would likely try and make Rose hit jump shots and the strategy worked. Even when he did find a crease into the paint, Atlanta's help defense made it tough for him.
Teague ended up playing 45 minutes which tied him with Joe Johnson for the team lead. He finished with 10 points and five assists but looked in control out there at both ends of the floor. It was an impressive performance by a player that has found himself on the outside looking in so many times this season. Big congratulations to Teague for stepping up in a very difficult spot and to coach Drew for giving him the opportunity. Hopefully this is just the beginning of something much bigger for Teague.
There probably hasn't been many times where Joe Johnson was any better that he was in Game 1. Johnson finished with 34 points on just 18 shot attempts. He was 5-5 from three point range and also chipped in four rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He and Jamal Crawford combined down the stretch to hit big shot after big shot. It wasn't always pretty with Johnson doing his iso thing but for the most part he was on the attack, found a rhythm early, and was able to sustain it throughout the game.
Jamal Crawford turned in another solid performance off the bench with 22 points on 8-16 shooting. Crawford proved to be a difficult match up for the Bulls and one that the Hawks need to look to exploit as this series unfolds. Kyle Korver is a big part of the Chicago offense but he is going to have a difficult time staying in front of Jamal Crawford.
If the Hawks are going to be successful in this series then they are going to need a more solid offensive contribution from Al Horford and Josh Smith. Tom Thibodeau is too good of a coach not to adjust and Joe Johnson is going to see a lot more defensive attention over the course of the rest of the series. Horford finishes with nine points, 13 rebounds, and four assists. Smith finished with eight points, six boards, four assists, and four blocks. Josh was just 3-11 from the field and was in the middle of that Chicago run where they took the lead with several misses from the perimeter. He was a factor defensively and came up with a big block on Joakim Noah late in the game which led to a Noah technical.
It would be easy to forget about Zaza Pachulia's performance in this game if you look at his stat line of eight minutes, six points, and five rebounds. The story though is that all of that damage came during Atlanta's 15-2 spurt where they took back control of the game.
As the Hawks move forward in this series, they will need to replicate this kind of effort defensively. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer had nice games but with so much offensive distribution going Rose's way, Boozer and Deng were hardly factors down the stretch. Offensively it is always about shot selection with these Hawks but they shared the ball enough in Game 1 to make it work. They will have to look to continue to tweak where they attack and look to get Horford more involved as Chicago loads up the defense to stop Johnson and Crawford.
Atlanta did exactly what they needed to do to have a chance in this series and that was grab one of the first two games in Chicago. Home court is now in the Hawks favor and Philips Arena promises to be even more rowdy in the second round than it was in the first against Orlando. We have already saw the Western Conference No. 1 seed fall and if these playoffs have proven anything it is that anything is possible. One game doesn't make a series, but Atlanta clearly made a first impression on the Bulls in Game 1.