How will series unwind in Windy City?
In a postseason of surprises, the Hawks-Bulls series has given us a few more.
We didn't expect the Hawks to win Game 1 or tie the series 2-2. We did expect Jeff Teague to be a factor, but not to play so well and come close to matching MVP Derrick Rose in some games in terms of efficiency. And we didn't expect Bulls fans to have to sweat so much.
To get a reset, we asked five writers for their takes. Here are five questions on Game 5:
1. On a 1-to-10 scale, how worried should Chicago fans be right now?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: I'd say a solid 9. Forget the regular-season records, playoff seedings and regular-season awards. The only numbers that matter right now are 2-2. The Hawks are the team that has been to the second round each of the past three seasons. The Bulls are the team entering new territory, collectively.
Matt McHale, Bullsbythehorns: I'd say about a 7. Not so much because the Bulls lost Game 4 or that the series is tied, but because the team's performance has been so up and down during the postseason. At times, the Bulls look like a group of guys still figuring each other out. That's troublesome for a team that won 62 games during the regular season. This is their first extended playoff run, so maybe they are still figuring each other out.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: 6 -- The Hawks were able to score on the Bulls in Games 1 and 4 and defend the Bulls effectively in Games 2 and 4. The events of Game 3 prevent me from honestly describing this as an evenly played series and the Bulls still hold the home-court advantage, but the Hawks can win this series.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: 4. They have two of the final three games in Chicago, the best home record in the NBA, and they're still playing the Hawks. Atlanta hit an insane amount of 3-pointers in the first win and relied on Josh Smith attacking the rim for the second win. I just don't trust the Hawks very easily.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: 3 -- The Bulls still have Derrick Rose. He still has the ability to put the team on his back and take control whenever he wants, as he did in Game 3. The Bulls are still the better defensive team and they know they can play a lot better than they've shown. They are still confident they're going to win -- so fans shouldn't worry.
2. On a 1-to-10 scale, rate D-Rose's performance and his shot selection.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: I'd give D-Rose an 8 so far. Almost by himself, he's kept his team in games and is averaging more than 25 points and 10 assists through four games, though his turnovers in key stretches have been costly. And Teague is making sure he has to work hard on both ends.
His shot selection has been a 9. Put the volume of shots aside for a second. Can you honestly say that Rose has taken many "bad" shots? I don't remember many. If the MVP needs to take 40 shots to help his team win, then he should.
Matt McHale, Bullsbythehorns: I'd give his performance an 8 and his shot selection a 7. Look, his shot selection was fine in Game 4, with 22 of his 32 FGAs from inside 10 feet and only three 3-pointers. The problem isn't the number or quality of his shots. It's that, in crunch time, they weren't coming within the flow of the offense. Everything was a dribble-drive. His teammates weren't active or involved enough down the stretch.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Eight for performance, 6 for shot selection. Rose's shot selection was poor in Game 1 and, though it was less than ideal in Game 4, his teammates have to take some of the blame for that. They went from playing within themselves to shying away from making decisions with the ball, making Rose's workload untenable.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Seven for performance. Rose hasn't been the December offensive maven that we all fell in love with but he's been doing what's necessary. Eight for shot selection. The majority of his 2s have been inside of 10 feet in this series and it's not like he has a reliable teammate to pass to. If he'd stop taking so many 3s, his shooting would look much better.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: A 5 for the series as a whole so far. Aside from his dominant performance in Game 3, Rose would be the first to tell you he could play a lot better in this series. His shot is still off and his defense has left something to be desired at times against Teague. In order for the Bulls to topple the Hawks, Rose has to find a way to be more consistent offensively.
A 5 for shot selection. Has Rose taken too many shots? Maybe a few. But he is the only player on the Bulls who can get his own shot whenever he wants it. When the rest of the Bulls are struggling, as they were during Game 4 when Rose jacked up 32 shots, there's even more pressure on the MVP to deliver. His teammates don't have an issue with the number, because they know they need him to win.
3. On a 1-to-10 scale, rate Teague's performance. Also, what's next?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Given the circumstance the second-year guard stepped into entering this series, Teague deserves a 10. You could make the case that he's the Hawks' second-most important player behind Joe Johnson. And he's been their most consistent performer this series. As far as expectations from here on out, I'd give him an 8. He won't win battles with Rose, but he'll make him work and won't make many mistakes while doing so.
Matt McHale, Bullsbythehorns: His performance, based on what was expected coming in, has been about a 10. I mean, he played nine minutes total in the first round. I expect him to be around an 8 for the rest of the series, if only because Chicago's defense is keying on Joe Johnson, Al Hoford, Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford. That's creating openings for Teague. Essentially, he's benefiting from all the attention those guys are getting.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Ten for performance, 6 for expectations going forward. Given the lack of confidence his organization showed him over the past two seasons and the lack of preparation they provided him, Teague's performance in this series has been extraordinary. It's also been convincing, so I expect him to remain an above average player for the next two or three games.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Teague's performance has been a 10 based on expectations going in. I don't know that many saw him playing this poised, bothering Rose with his defense and matching the MVP's athleticism on so many plays. I expect him to be a 6 the rest of the way. This improbable run should regress to the mean with the pressure mounting the rest of the way.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: 8 -- for the series so far. When Kirk Hinrich went down, I thought this series was over. I didn't think there was any way Teague could produce the way he has. He has given the Hawks a huge lift and is gaining more confidence by the day. He's earned the respect of the Bulls very quickly.
A 4 for the rest of the series. When Rose sets his mind to slowing a point guard down, he does it. Just ask Chris Paul and Deron Williams. I think Rose will take the challenge of shutting down Teague personally now that the Hawks guard has had a couple big games on him. If he does that, it will slow down any offensive rhythm the Hawks got into during Game 4.
4. On a 1-to-10 scale, what do you expect from Booz and Smoove?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: I'm expecting about a 7 from Boozer. There's no question the toe injury is affecting his game. But he started to come around in Game 4 and is finding his rhythm. Boozer is still rebounding at a decent rate and remains the lone consistent post-up option on either team.
And what more can you say about "Smoove?" While I don't expect another near triple-double from him, I do think he can be a solid 8 for the Hawks the rest of the way. But he's just like the rest of the Hawks. They are far more comfortable flying under the radar. They don't wear expectations well.
Matt McHale, Bullsbythehorns: I'm not expecting more than a 5 from Boozer. He's been slumping since the All-Star break, Game 4 was his first really strong offensive performance during these playoffs, and he has a bum toe. I'd love if things turned around. But let's just say the Magic 8-ball says: "Not likely."
Smith is a different story. Yes, his jump shooting has Hawks fans freaking out a little bit, but he's affecting these games in a variety of ways: scoring, rebounding, passing, leading fast breaks and simply providing energy. I expect that to continue, so he gets a 7. It would be an 8 if he didn't keep chucking from 18 feet.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Six for Boozer, 8 for Smith. The Hawks going big is a boon for Boozer. Neither Jason Collins nor Zaza Pachulia are adept at closing out on the pick-and-pop, so he should get his points. He'll have to, as his turf toe figures to limit his contributions as a rebounder and further limit his contributions as a defender.
Smith is going to take five unnecessary and probably unsuccessful jump shots a game. It's not what anybody else wants from him, but as long as he rebounds, takes 10 or more shots in the basket area and gets to the foul line, his positive contributions overcome his stubbornness. Beyond the blocked shots, he did a much better job in Game 4 of chasing Luol Deng going around screens than Marvin Williams did in the first three games.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: For Boozer, I expect a 3 and I'd advise Chicago fans to do the same. While his career playoff numbers look admirable on the surface, any Utah Jazz fan will tell you they're pretty empty in terms of impact. You're going to be much more comfortable with Taj Gibson in the game, so just hope Boozer rebounds well.
For Smith, I'm going to set myself up for disappointment and expect an 8. There's no way he can watch his Game 4 performance and continue to think he has any business shooting outside jumpers. Josh, we're all begging you. Tap that potential and drive to the basket. Save us from you settling for jumpers.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: A 3 for Boozer. Yes, he had 18 points in Game 4 and seemed to have a little more explosion, but toe is really bothering him ... and it's not getting much better. He is still a serious liability on defense and will get rattled by the booing crowd if he struggles in the beginning of Game 5.
A 5 for Smith. In this case a 5 is the equivalent of a question mark. It's the middle between a zero and a 10, two numbers Smith could hit over the next few games. He has the ability, as he showed in Game 4, to dominate and be a difference-maker. If he keeps shooting jumpers, and missing, he will be one of the Bulls' biggest assets.
5. On a 1-to-10 scale, how likely is it Atlanta takes Game 5 and the series?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: I'd give the Hawks a 4 to take Game 5. They've shown they're capable of winning in Chicago already, with that Game 1 victory. Giving them a 4 means they have a 40 percent shot. This has basically become a 50-50 series, so that means I'd give them a 5 to win it. I picked the Bulls in 7, and I see no reason to back off that pick. But by now, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Hawks find a way to pull this off.
Matt McHale, Bullsbythehorns: The Bulls played poorly in Game 4 -- on both offense and defense -- but nearly won anyway. I'd rate the Hawks a 3 to win Game 5 in Chicago. I think it's more likely to be a blowout in Chicago's favor. And I'd rate them about a 3 to win the series, too. It may go all the way to seven games, but the Bulls are the better team and should win. With an emphasis on "should."
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: 3 for Game 5, and 4 for the series. As improved as the Hawks have been in the playoffs, they still haven't put together two consecutive strong performances and they're playing on the road. So, they're not likely to win Game 5. At this point, they are likely to win Game 6 in Atlanta, which (obviously) would mean they'd just have to win one of two in Chicago. That's not probable but it's something they did last week.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: The odds the Hawks take Game 5 has to be about a 4. Coming back to Chicago, where the home crowd should be raucous and trying to help will its team to victory, will be a lot for the team to overcome. To win the series, it is probably a 2. They need outside jumpers to fall and Smith to ball in order to pull off such an upset. The better defense should dictate the winner.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: A 3 the Hawks Game 5, and a 2 they take the series. The Bulls are still the more disciplined team. That discipline, and Rose's talent, will be the determining factors at the end of this series.
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