Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: Bulls get back to basics, even up series against Hawks


If Game 1 between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks was an aberration — after all, the Hawks converted tough jumpers at an extremely high rate, and rode the high of those makes into a well-executed defense and an improbable victory — then Game 2 was oddly typical.

The Bulls are no strangers to offensive inefficiency, and on those nights when Derrick Rose struggles to keep his turnovers down or his field goal percentage up, Chicago still holds the means to gut out ugly wins. For all of Rose’s strengths, the Bulls didn’t climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings due only to the brilliance of his drives or his ability to set up his teammates; Chicago won a gaudy number of games by leading the NBA in effective field goal percentage allowed and dominating the boards on both ends of the court. The Bulls are as active and bothersome as any team in the league on the defensive end, and though Game 2 began with the MVP trophy being presented to Rose in front of his home crowd, it ended with the Bulls taking care of business in a manner that only included Rose as one valuable part of a successful team-wide effort.

The Bulls were back to their dominant ways on the glass, as they grabbed 32.6 percent of the available offensive boards while limiting the Hawks to a far lower mark on the other end. Joakim Noah — who had seven offensive rebounds and 14 boards overall to go along with his 15 points — was the star in that effort, but Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng grabbed a combined 19 defensive rebounds to prevent the misfiring Hawks from securing any extra opportunities.

Atlanta’s shot selection finally came back to bite them, and without a superior rebounding performance like the one they had in Game 1, the Hawks had no means to score reliably. Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith made some particularly questionable decisions, but the less prolific output from Joe Johnson (who finished with 16 points, just a few shy of his 34-point outburst from Game 1) was just as damaging to Atlanta’s cause. The Bulls didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but the Hawks still had trouble keeping pace, and scored at a rate of just 83 points per 100 possessions. That mark is atrocious, but was an inevitable result of Atlanta’s desire to shoot contested jumpers and live with the consequences.

The problems of Atlanta’s offense were due to no explicit fault of Jeff Teague’s, as the emergency point guard dropped a team-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. That said, Teague’s limitations did come into play; Johnson and Crawford initiated much of Atlanta’s offense, and while that strategic decision minimized Teague’s turnovers (he didn’t commit a single TO in Game 2, after giving the ball away just once in Game 1), it put a lot of pressure on Atlanta’s ball-handling wings to create a stable offense. That’s possible when all of the Hawks’ jumpers are falling, but once the defensive pressure increases and the exasperation sets in, the Hawks sometimes stymie their own offense at the point of attack. To a degree, it becomes less about what the Bulls are doing defensively and more about what the Hawks aren’t doing offensively. The ball movement becomes unproductive, the cuts and curls are mere tokens, the effort to really run a legitimate offense is subpar. These are the realities of the typical Atlanta Hawks, and even though Teague is doing an admirable job of filling in for Kirk Hinrich, the absence of the Hawks’ true starting point guard has stifled their already stiflable offense considerably. Things were going to be tough for Atlanta to maintain their offensive production even with Hinrich in the lineup (as-was?), but now this team seems capable of little more on the offensive end than splashes of hot shooting and benefiting from their occasional good fortune. It’s not easy for any team to execute against Chicago’s defense, but Atlanta doesn’t make it any easier on themselves, either.

Game 2 fell more in line with series expectation, though it’s likely that Chicago’s offense will improve from here through schematic means; we already saw a foundation for improvement with an increase in side screen-and-roll action, a fairly effective counter to the defensive pressure that had kept Rose from getting to the basket in Game 1. If the Bulls continue to work those side angles and implement more variety into their pick-and-roll attack while spacing the floor well, they’ll create more opportunities for Rose to charge toward the rim with a full head of steam or use his active dribble to create new passing lanes. Atlanta, on the other hand, is still too reliant on the bounce of the ball, not to mention the often questionable decision-making ability of its high-usage players. Johnson, Crawford, and Smith are often too willing to take a poorly chosen shot or stop the ball with isolation play, and though on their best days those three are a sight to behold, the norm is something a bit less fantastic. It’s 4-of-14 shooting for Smith with four turnovers. It’s 2-of-10 shooting from Crawford and a -9 plus-minus for the game, the single lowest for any player on either team. It’s dreadfully low scoring efficiency in what could have been a very winnable contest.

This is the result of a game in which the Hawks are the Hawks and the Bulls are the Bulls. If Atlanta wants to win a few more games and make this a series, they had better start working toward a few more aberrations.

Hassan Whiteside on intentional fouls: “It’s not working, so keep fouling me”

Hassan Whiteside
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Remember how Adam Silver was preaching that the league didn’t want to change the intentional foul rule — the hack-a-Shaq strategy — because it was really about two players (DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard) and a handful of others now and then. The fact that it’s not basketball didn’t matter.

Well, it’s not just two — Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has gotten the treatment this season. He’s a 53.4 percent free throw shooter this season.

And he says bring it on. From Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “Foul me so I can get a double-double and we can win. It’s not working, so keep fouling me.”

He’s even smart at not getting fouled.

Whiteside also is liking that teams are looking at their options against the best defense in the NBA — yes, Miami at 94 points allowed per 100 possessions, is the best defense in the NBA right now — and deciding to attack Whiteside.

“There’s teams that’s out there that say ‘Stay away from Hassan,’ and there’s teams that say, ‘We don’t care if Hassan’s down there. Attack Hassan.’ I love them teams that do that. God bless them coaches. I love them teams.”

Whiteside is not as great a defender as the block totals would indicate — if he doesn’t see a block in it, his rotations can be a bit slow. One scout recently called him a selfish defender to me recently, suggesting he is in it for the numbers, not the sacrifices needed for an elite defense. True or not, the Heat have an elite defense and Whiteside is at the heart of it.

And if the strategy is to try to exploit him, Whiteside plans to make people pay.

LeBron James: Spend less time comparing, more appreciating the greats

Michael Jordan, LeBron James
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Monday night, LeBron James joined Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history to be in the top 25 all-time in assists and scoring. Somewhere this summer (maybe late last season), Stephen Curry passed LeBron James and the best player walking the face of the earth. Don’t even get started on trying to compare LeBron or Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan.

No, seriously, don’t. LeBron thinks we spend to much time comparing and not enough time appreciating the great players of sport, such as comparing him to Robertson (or Magic). Here is what LeBron said to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“I think what we get caught up in, in our league too much is trying to compare greats to greats instead of just accepting and acknowledging and saying, ‘Wow, these are just great players,'” James said. “I think in the NFL when you talk about great quarterbacks, they don’t really compare great quarterbacks. They say, ‘Oh, Joe Montana is great.’ You know, ‘Tom Brady is great. Aaron Rodgers is great. Steve Young is great.’ (Terry) Bradshaw, all those great quarterbacks they never compare them as much, but when it comes to our sport we’re so eager to say, ‘Who is better, Oscar or (Michael) Jordan?’ or, ‘Jordan or LeBron or Kobe (Bryant) or these guys?’ instead of just accepting greatness.”

He’s right.

I admit I can get as sucked into this as the next person, it’s a fun barstool argument to have, but in the end it can suck the joy out of watching great players. This is not a new position for me, I was a Laker blogger back in the Kobe/Gasol era and tried to tell those fans to enjoy it while they could. Be a fan of the game has been my mantra.

No player has had to deal with this level of scrutiny like LeBron, the first NBA superstar of the social media age. LeBron is a lock Hall of Famer, he will go down as one of the greats to ever play the game, maybe the most physically gifted ever (him or Wilt), yet while he is still just 30 years old we try to rank him against MJ, Dr. J., Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and a host of others. It’s been going on since he was 24. Probably earlier.

Can you imagine the online heat Jordan would have faced online when the Pistons rolled him and the Bulls in the playoffs three straight years, up to his age 26? But now in the mythology of Jordan those times are almost forgotten. They were dissected at the time, but not with the venom found on twitter. Not with the level of scrutiny LeBron faces.

Does Kobe suck this season? Maybe. But there are flashes of the great player and as fans we should try to savor those moments (even if we question now Byron Scott uses him). Same with Tim Duncan (who doesn’t suck). Or Kevin  Garnett. Plus there are all these great players on the rise like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns and on and on, yet the NBA world is critical first.

We all need to savor these players, these moments more.

Even if we know LeBron is not MJ, it doesn’t mean LeBron isn’t special.


Who wins a footrace: Kyle Anderson or Tim Duncan?

Tim Duncan, Kyle Anderson

Former UCLA Bruin Kyle Anderson has some skills. The reigning Summer League MVP plays a high IQ game and is a forward who can handle the rock, which is getting him a few Boris Diaw minutes off the Spurs bench this season.

But the man is not fast.

After watching him on a “fast” break Monday night, Tim Duncan thought he could take him in a race. Via Jeff McDonald of the Express-News.

Anderson knows he’s not fleet of foot, his twitter handle is “slowmo.”

This harkens back to the “who would win a race between Dirk Nowitzki and Peyton Manning” debate from the preseason. These are races that could be timed with a sundial. Saying there would be winners is a relative term.

But in this case we might actually see the race. I want a Duncan/Anderson race. Charles Barkley and Dick Bavetta can be the honorary timers.

Draymond Green on Warriors’ 16-0 bid: ‘I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy’

Draymond Green

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors would be content after winning one NBA title was sadly mistaken.

With Stephen Curry hitting 3-pointers at a record-setting pace and the rest of his teammates playing with a high level of intensity and focus, the Warriors have tied the NBA record with 15 straight wins to open the season.

Somehow, they have found a way to improve following a season when they won 67 games and rolled through the playoffs without ever being taken to a seventh game.

“We’re trying to win another championship,” forward Draymond Green said. “That’s what we’re fueled by. I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy. I think it’s way better to be greedy for success than hungover on success. I think we’re on the right end of the spectrum, which is great.”

The Warriors have a chance to break the record they currently share with the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

After downplaying the chase of the record at the start of the season, Golden State has embraced it.

“Now that we’re here and have tied the record, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Curry said. “You never know if you’ll ever be in this position again. We have a great group and to be able to be in position to do something that hasn’t been done in the history of the NBA with all the great teams and all the great players who have played in this league, that’s special.”

The only team standing in their way is the Lakers, who have the second-worst record in the NBA with just two wins in 13 games.

Lakers coach Byron Scott said the Warriors are the best team he’s seen in a while and star guard Kobe Bryant said stranger things have happened than a team playing as poorly as the Lakers beating one as dominant as the Warriors.

“We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there,” Bryant said Sunday in Los Angeles. “You never know.”

The Warriors have gotten to this point with the help of a late game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in a home win against Brooklyn, a comeback from 23 points down to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and plenty of blowouts.

They have outscored the opposition by 14.4 points per game, the most at this point of the season since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls followed up their record 72-win campaign by outscoring their first 15 opponents by 16.5 points on the way to a 14-1 start the following year.

“They’ve just been consistent,” said LeBron James, who lost to Golden State in the finals last season with Cleveland. “Think the most impressive thing is the way they’ve been playing at a high level for so long. I think it comes with a lot of health. They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win and that’s all that matters.”

Golden State has the depth to overcome whatever injuries the Warriors have had. Starting center Andrew Bogut missed six games with a concussion, guard Klay Thompson has been dealing with a stiff back that forced him to miss one game and key reserve guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa have also missed time.

Golden State has also done all of this without head coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since training camp because of complications from offseason back surgery.

“It would be more impressive if they were doing all this without Steph,” James said. “Then there would be a conversation to talk about.”

Instead, Curry has been a driving force to the success under interim coach Luke Walton. Curry is on pace for a record-setting 404 3-pointers and his 490 points through 15 games are the eighth most in the league in the past half-century.

Curry and his teammates see no reason to slow down now.

“You want to keep it going and the only way you can do that is by staying sharp, staying focused and bringing effort every night and that’s the mentality that we have,” Curry said. “That’s the reason we’re 15-0. It’s the reason why last year we had a 16-game winning streak. We built up a winning mentality and confidence in each other. We want to bottle that up and ride the wave as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham, Pat Graham and Tom Withers contributed to this report.