The Atlanta Hawks managed to bother Derrick Rose in the first two games of this series by using their bigs to clog the middle of the floor on Chicago’s screen-and-rolls, but Rose seemed to have an epiphany of sorts in Game 3; rather than play conservatively in an attempt to exploit the Atlanta defense with a perfect pass to the open man through the stilted defense, Rose attacked that floating coverage and forced the Hawks to convert deterrence into actual defense. It didn’t quite add up for the Hawks, and the lightning-fast Rose kept his head up and his dribble alive in order to shift all the pressure on Atlanta’s passive defensive front. Once he established a rhythm on floaters, the rest of Rose’s game came easily; 44 points from the MVP later, the Bulls walked off the court with an easy 99-82 win, and a 2-1 series advantage.
The Bulls didn’t shoot extremely well from the field overall (46.8 percent from the field) considering their level of offensive success (Chicago scored at a rate of 125.3 points per 100 possessions), but Rose’s incredible efficiency, the team’s accuracy from three-point range, and another strong offensive rebounding performance provided the Bulls with all they needed to thump the Hawks. Atlanta isn’t quite reeling, but they’re going to have to revive their inexplicable rebounding prowess from Game 1, or tweak their strategy to keep Rose under wraps, or do something drastic to shift the balance of this series. As the better team, Chicago had the opportunity to stay the course; their defense was going to come around, as was Rose. But after two losses, Atlanta has lost merely by being who they are.
We know the characters and sadly, the plot of this series, barring a rewrite. The Bulls are a team defined by their diligence, and the Hawks a team defined by their vices. Rose will go to work against the Hawks defense, Joakim Noah will scrap his way to every offensive board in sight. Chicago’s defense will grind and grind and grind, and the Hawks’ offense will settle and settle and settle. Josh Smith will keep taking long jumpers to a chorus of boos from his home fans. Joe Johnson will stop the ball. Atlanta will work away from everything that works, and even when they get a productive night from Jeff Teague or a more balanced scoring effort than they’re accustomed, a team in Atlanta’s position is forever left wanting more. They’re not without hope, but as an outmatched team facing an elite club with a truly amazing player (the best in the league, according to MVP voters), they’re also without a foundation for victory should all things remain constant.