Quantcast 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs: Semifinals - Chicago vs Atlanta

 

NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals - (5) Atlanta Hawks vs. (1) Chicago Bulls

 

 

The irony is painful, literally and figuratively, for the Atlanta Hawks. Just when they overcame their negative reputation and achieved something significant, they lost one of the men who made their rise to prominence possible. Now, the Hawks – who should be overflowing with confidence – will find it hard to bear the burden of a less-than-fully-fit roster as they take on the Chicago Bulls.

It’s true that Atlanta has just improved its image by leaps and bounds. The Hawks’ ability to dismiss the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs revealed a team with a lot more heart than the city of Atlanta is accustomed to at this time of year. New coach Larry Drew has convinced his team to sell out on defense and commit to getting stops. The Hawks have a rough-and-tumble feel: They’re still not a precise or fluid offensive unit; they’re still prone to play stand-around jump-shooting ball for prolonged stretches. They still can’t impose their will on opponents near the tin, and they don’t have the kind of pivot player who can really bother Chicago’s Carlos Boozer. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that Atlanta’s defense has been a constant for this team, especially in the just-completed six-game win over an Orlando squad that has replaced Atlanta as the newest underachiever in the East.

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Even when Atlanta couldn’t shoot straight against the Magic, the Hawks defended hard and well. Atlanta shot poorly, hitting just 39 percent of its field-goal attempts in Game 6 on Thursday night on its home court, but the fifth seed in the East dragged Orlando to an even lower place. That’s why the Hawks dug out an ugly but effective 84-81 win and now find themselves in round two for the second straight season. This is a team one can respect, a markedly abnormal thing to say about the Hawks as a franchise.

 

 

Yet, just when Atlanta was gearing up for a shot at a second straight playoff upset against the top-seeded Bulls, the underdog took a big hit. At the end of Game 6 against Orlando, Kirk Hinrich, acquired by the Hawks this past season, injured himself on a hard fall. Hinrich did not look like he is going to be able play high-quality extended minutes in this series against Chicago, his former team. Hinrich was often the one on the Atlanta roster who attacked the basket and freed his team from bad tendencies. Hinrich also delivered copious amounts of dogged perimeter defense for his team. In many ways, Hinrich was the missing link, the man who gave Atlanta a lot of the junkyard-dog fierceness that had been so noticeably absent in prior postseasons. Without a fully-healthy Hinrich, Atlanta is going to have big problems as it tries to defend Derrick Rose, the Chicago superstar who is also the leader of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race. The Hawks will also have trouble as they try to contain Chicago two-guard Luol Deng, a credible three-point shooter who can also slash to the goal and break down defenses on the dribble. Atlanta is going to be hard pressed to defend Chicago at all points on the floor, and since the Hawks’ backcourt – Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford – will have to use so much energy on defense, Atlanta’s not likely to have the depth or stamina it needs to run with the Bulls. With Hinrich, this felt like a long series, but if the Kansas product can’t be close to 100 percent, the Hawks won’t look like the team that dispatched Orlando.

They’ll look like past Atlanta teams.

The Bulls, to put it plainly, are licking their chops.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer


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