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May 7, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
When Rose is a rose

by Bradford Doolittle

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Chicago 99, at Atlanta 82 (Chicago leads series 2-1)
Pace: 79.2
Offensive Ratings: Chicago 125.1, Atlanta 103.6

The Hawks won Game One with offense; the Bulls took the second game with defense. In Friday's Game Three, Chicago put together the best all-around performance of either team in the series and wrested control of the homecourt away from the Hawks. It was a thorough domination by the Bulls, who started so quickly out of the gate that Atlanta coach Larry Drew called timeout 49 seconds into the contest. Energy is such an elusive concept as it pertains to basketball, and so obviously transient. Why do some teams have it and some don't, even when rest and travel aren't issues? Why do some teams have it and lose it? Where does it go?

Derrick Rose had plenty of energy and any concerns about his lingering ankle problems were summarily dismissed. Rose was fantastic from start to finish, attacking the rim, dictating the tempo and kicking to open shooters. Every decision he made seemed correct and when he chose to shoot jumpers, he shot them well. His 44 points were a career-high total and he didn't particularly have to labor to reach that mark. Tom Thibodeau changed up the play calling, putting in more pick-and-rolls, double-screens and staggered screens to free up Rose.

TOP PLAYOFF PERFORMANCES
DATE   PLAYER                GR
4/16   howard,dwight       51.4
4/19   anthony,carmelo     47.2
5/ 6   rose,derrick        46.8
4/17   paul,chris          46.7
4/24   paul,chris          42.3
4/21   wade,dwyane         39.0
4/22   bryant,kobe         38.9
5/ 2   johnson,joe         38.7
5/ 1   durant,kevin        38.2
4/17   westbrook,russell   38.2
4/17   durant,kevin        37.9
5/ 6   nowitzki,dirk       37.7
4/17   bryant,kobe         36.4
4/28   wallace,gerald      36.4
5/ 3   james,lebron        36.1
4/21   terry,jason         36.1
4/16   rose,derrick        35.8
4/19   nowitzki,dirk       35.5
5/ 2   bryant,kobe         35.2
4/27   durant,kevin        35.2
4/19   howard,dwight       35.2
4/28   nowitzki,dirk       34.7
4/16   johnson,joe         34.6
5/ 1   wade,dwyane         34.0
5/ 2   rose,derrick        33.9
GR (Game Rating) Reflects
a player's Points Created total,
or the portion of his team's offense
for which he gets credit based on his
box score line. This number is then
adjusted for estimated defensive performance
based on box score counterpart productivity.
GR is pace-adjusted so you can compare players
from game to game.

Post-ups were almost entirely left out of the Chicago gameplan; according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Bulls posted up on just two percent of their offensive plays in the game. Instead, Rose attacked and when he couldn't get to the rim, he kicked to an open shooter. The Hawks beat the Bulls in paint points and free throws, but Chicago shot 10-of-20 on threes to augment Rose's barrage.

Chicago was also selectively efficient in transition, doing exactly what I asked for in my Game Two recap. That is, Rose pushed up the floor off of long rebounds and turnovers, always looking for the quick and easy shot before pulling the ball out to set up a play. Just as important, others ran with him, running to the rim or walling off Jeff Teague when he tried to cut off Rose's penetration. Chicago averaged 1.33 points on transition plays, and that figure doesn't include bounty the Bulls collected off the secondary break.

At the other end, Chicago throttled the Hawks on the perimeter, slapping double team on Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford way out onto the floor and forcing them to give up the ball. Johnson and Crawford combined for just 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting, with Luol Deng again doing the majority of the work initially against Johnson. For whatever reason, Johnson saw just 4:36 of court time in the fourth quarter as Atlanta tried in vain to make up it's large deficit; he was shown on the telecast a couple of times while on the bench, staring forlornly at the floor, longing for the magic of Game One.

Even though the Bulls again extended their defense to keep Atlanta's shooters from getting started, that still did not translate into paint production for the Hawks, at least not enough to keep them in the game. The Hawks were 22-of-39 in the lane on Friday, their largest number of close-in attempts in the first three games. For the series, both Atlanta and Chicago are getting 48 percent of their shots in the lane, with the Hawks actually converting at a slightly higher figure (54 percent to 51 percent). That's despite the clampdown that Joakim Noah has put on Al Horford.

The problem with Atlanta's offense right now is the volume of shots they are getting in the paint. With Chicago overplaying on the perimeter, the Hawks have got to pound the ball inside to loosen things up. As it is, instead of extra paint opportunities, the three-point shots the Bulls are taking away from Atlanta are turning into long twos. Thirty-eight percent of Atlanta's shots in the series have come in the netherworld between the paint and the arc; the numbers is just 28 percent for Chicago. It's a recipe for bad offense, with an icon of Smith clanging a baseline jumper.

Josh Smith was a little more active this time out, getting 17 points, but his outside shot remains M.I.A. and he was just 3-of-8 from the foul line. Atlanta shot 15-of-25 from the line in the game (60 percent), continuing a seldom-mentioned theme in the series. The Hawks have attempted 17 more free throws than the Bulls in the series, but have made just six more. Atlanta is shooting 71 percent from the charity stripe to Chicago's 83 percent. For a team without many advantages in this matchup, that's too many free points left on the table.

Teague continues to be the bright spot for the Hawks, putting up 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Friday's game. However, he scored just two points in the fourth quarter as Atlanta's attack became increasingly unfocused and unhinged. He's show well in the series and should be proud, but he's not going to win a game on his own. Also, when Rose forced Teague to do more on defense than simply sag back, we saw just how much of a gap there is in the relative athleticism of these two guards.

The Hawks have garnered a reputation as frontrunners that last two seasons. The converse of that is that when they get down, they tend to stay down like a beaten dog. Is that what is going to happen to this year's version of the Hawks? The evidence in Game Three wasn't promising. We'll now for sure in Game Four, Sunday night in Atlanta.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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