After three games in this series a few things have become very apparent. Atlanta can't win this series if they continue to lose the battle of the boards at the current rate and they can't overcome a superhuman performance from Derrick Rose. It is also apparent that if the Hawks are to have any hope in Game 4 and beyond, then they must find a way to put Al Horford and Josh Smith into positions where they can be successful offensively.
After Game 1's offensive explosion by Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, Chicago adjusted the game plan and none of Atlanta's adjustments have proven effective.
At first glance last night, it felt like the Bulls had a much better offensive night as a team. When looking at the box score, I now think that was only partly true. The biggest difference was the MVP performance of Derrick Rose scoring 44 points on 27 shots. Rose has hoisted 27 shots in each of the three games of this series but the difference in Game 3 was that he hit 16 shots including 4-7 from deep and 8-9 from the free throw line. Other than Rose, the Bulls got 24 combined points from Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson but it was really a lot of Rose and very little of anything else for Chicago.
Atlanta used the let one player get his points and stop everyone else strategy effectively in the first round, but given their offensive struggles against the Chicago defense, Atlanta can't withstand a super human effort from Rose.
Once again it was a discombobulated effort offensively. There is a little bit of good mixed in with a lot of bad over the course of 48 minutes. The problem is at this point of the season, there isn't room for a lot of struggles. The Bulls are too good a defensive team for Atlanta to make things hard on themselves. Yet that is exactly what they do many times. A perfect example is Atlanta's execution on the fast break. You have no doubt heard me harp on it before but I don't think I have ever seen a team be less fundamental on the fast break than this Hawks club. Instead of sprinting for a lay up, Atlanta can routinely turn a two on one, or three on one break into a three point attempt.
That pretty much sums up this Hawks team on offense in my mind. They do very little to make things easier on themselves and a lot of their wounds are self inflicted. That isn't meant as a shot at the Chicago defense because they may in fact be the best defensive team in the league, but against Atlanta sometimes they don't have to be at their best.
In Game 1, the Hawks out rebounded Chicago 38-37. In Game 3, Atlanta surrendered 18 offensive boards while being out rebounded 47-34 overall. Joakim Noah has been the biggest catalyst in this charge. After that Game 1 loss, in addition to making defensive adjustments there is little doubt in my mind that Tom Thibodeau challenged his team about their rebounding in Game 1 and they have responded. If Atlanta hopes to compete in this series the rest of the way then they have to cut into the rebounding advantage the Bulls have. That isn't done by relying on Al Horford and Josh Smith to play better. That is rather done by all five players on the court making a concerted effort to rebound. Smith and Horford have to do a better job of putting a body on Noah, but the entire Hawks team has to pick up their play on the boards.
Looking to Game 4
As we look to Game 4, the single biggest positive surrounding the Hawks is the play of Jeff Teague. All the second year guard has done in this series has been be the Hawks best player on the floor over the course of the three games. We will get into what Teague's play means long term after the playoffs but he has taken his seized his opportunity in one of the most difficult situations available.
The Bulls have shown that they are not going to make it easy for Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford to beat them. They have routinely doubled both players in an effort to get the ball out of their hands. That places a lot of the pressure to play well on the shoulders of Al Horford and Josh Smith. It hasn't happened so far for Horford, and Smith probably had his best game of the series in Game 3. Still Atlanta needs more from both player and needs Smith to go inside from the beginning and not after testing the limits of his jump shot.