Will Chicago finish off series in Atlanta?
The Bulls had the NBA's best regular-season record and point guard Derrick Rose won the MVP, but in the postseason, they haven't been the league's MIT: Most Impressive Team.
Rather, they've struggled with two teams that combined to finish below .500 on the season, Indiana and Atlanta, and now they find themselves potentially 48 minutes from being forced into a Game 7 by the Hawks.
Still, they're also 48 minutes from heading to the Eastern Conference finals, where they would have the home-court advantage over Miami.
To help us make sense of the mixed bag that the Bulls-Hawks series has become, and to look ahead to Game 6, let's go 5-on-5:
1. Chicago's trailed in the 4th quarter in seven playoff games. What's up?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: The Bulls just aren't a dynamic offensive team. It's that simple. Another issue is that they haven't gotten consistent production in the postseason from their self-proclaimed "Bench Mob" -- Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver have been sporadic at best on offense. But the Bulls' defense has been good enough to keep them in games until the offense kicks into gear.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: It shows what we already knew: Chicago is a blue-collar team with one great player. They grind out the first 40 minutes and then give it to the MVP and say, "Take us home, buddy." And since he is Derrick Rose, he does exactly that. This doesn't leave much room for error -- as we've seen -- but it has worked so far.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: What's up is everyone else's intensity in the playoffs. The Bulls played harder than almost every team they faced in the regular season, thanks in large part to coach Tom Thibodeau, but that hasn't been the case in the playoffs. Chicago's offense has also been weakened by teams focusing more on Derrick Rose. Luckily, the Bulls have continued to play strong defense, which has led to those fourth-quarter comebacks.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: It's tempting to give excellent defensive teams too much benefit of the doubt. The Bulls are the inverse of the Mike D'Antoni-Steve Nash Suns, with Derrick Rose's offense and Shawn Marion's defense providing the foundational excellence at each team's weaker end of the floor. In a seven-game playoff series, the opposition will eventually magnify your imbalance.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: As Derrick Rose goes, so goes the Bulls' offense, and Rose's jump shot hasn't really been on in the playoffs. It's hard to get out to early leads or big leads when you're so predictable offensively, and the Bulls have yet to really hum on all cylinders on the offensive end.
2. Should Chicago have been giving Brewer, Gibson and Asik more run?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik had a breakthrough moment in the fourth quarter of Game 5. Was it an aberration? We'll see in Game 6, when the Bulls have their first chance to eliminate the Hawks. Coach Tom Thibodeau insists he will go with whatever group has the hot hand, which means if Brewer, Gibson and Asik bring the energy, they'll be part of the plan.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Gibson has to play. His 5-for-5 shooting and supreme confidence in Tuesday's fourth quarter turned the game. The Bulls desperately need scoring, so Thibodeau must try to capitalize on this spark and hope Gibson can finally become something more than the guy I keep mistaking for Carlos Boozer when I look up quickly.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: Absolutely. Chicago's bench rotation was a big factor in the Bulls' 62-win season, No. 1 seeding and Thibodeau's Coach of the Year award. The rotations change in the playoffs, but these guys should have gotten a chance earlier -- especially considering how some of the Bulls, like Carlos Boozer, have struggled so far this postseason.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Not to hijack the question, but Hawks coach Larry Drew must wish that kind of question could be posed about his bench. He is looking for ways to play Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams and Jason Collins less. The fresh Brewer, Gibson and Asik took excellent advantage of the Hawks' heavy legs in the fourth quarter of Game 5.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Gibson and Asik should absolutely have gotten more run. Asik led the Bulls in plus/minus during the regular season, Gibson is one of the best backup defensive power forwards in basketball, and Boozer and Noah have both struggled at times.
3. For you, what's been the biggest Hawks revelation during this series?
A. Atlanta can play with Chicago.
B. Jeff Teague can ball.
C. Al Horford can shoot.
D. Josh Smith is really, really talented.
E. [Your discovery here]
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: E. My discovery is that Jeff Teague could be this good and Jamal Crawford could be this bad. Regardless of how this ends, it appears Atlanta has found its point guard for the long haul. Teague has averaged 17 points, 4.4 assists and just one turnover against MVP Derrick Rose. Meanwhile, the streaky Crawford has shot 35.8 percent overall and missed 16-of-20 from 3-point range.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: B. Jeff Teague can ball. Who knew? I thought the outcry against Mike Bibby still running an NBA offense in 2011 was due to the fact that he is Mike Bibby. Turns out that he was actually suppressing a backup with real talent. This sounds crazy, but between Joe Johnson and Teague, the Hawks actually might have the backcourt advantage against Chicago.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: B. Jeff Teague can ball. Teague was supposed to be a doormat for Derrick Rose, but he has played great. He has defended Rose about as well as anyone can, arguably better than injured Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich would have, and is averaging 15 points per game. There have been times when the Hawks have gotten away from running the offense through Teague, but really they shouldn't have.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: B. Jeff Teague can ball. And, given the point guard play the Hawks got prior to the Bibby/Hinrich trade, said ability to ball could have come in handy for the Hawks much earlier this season. Not just on the court, but in terms of the future value of hanging on to Jordan Crawford and their 2011 first-round pick.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: B. Jeff Teague can ball, without a doubt. He averaged five points on 44 percent shooting in the regular season, and now he is looking like an athletic dynamo and giving Derrick Rose all he can handle on the offensive end. Absolutely shocking.
4. After 10 postseason games, which of the following seems more true?
A. The Bulls can and will grind out wins against any team.
B. The Bulls will be in trouble in the East finals unless they step it up.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: A. The Bulls can and will grind out wins against any team. Ask yourself this: When was the last time the Bulls have been completely overwhelmed and manhandled in any game? I can't think of a time either. That's because their infrastructure won't allow it. The Bulls' 3-D attack -- defense, depth and D-Rose -- allows them to match up well with any team they'll face in the postseason.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: B. The Bulls will be in trouble in the East finals unless they step it up. I was unimpressed with Chicago throughout the Pacers series. Though the Bulls have looked more cohesive offensively in this series, to beat the Heat they'll need to score more consistently -- not just on key plays late when the MVP turns into Halley's Comet.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: Both are true, but B is more true. The Bulls can get wins, but can they beat the Heat in a seven-game series? After the regular season, I thought they could. Now after watching them in the playoffs, I'm not so sure. If their offense can be just a little more dynamic, they can still win the East.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: B. The Bulls will be in trouble in the East finals unless they step it up. The Bulls have to keep it up to make the East finals. As pleasant as it's been to watch an improved Hawks team in the postseason, I suspect the Miami Heat will pose a tougher task in the next round, if the Bulls make it that far.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: A. The Bulls can and will grind out wins against any team. This Bulls team reminds me of a better version of the pre-Mo Williams Cavaliers teams: They don't make things pretty, but their defense is good enough to keep every game close and they have a player who can take over at the end of games. There are worse recipes.
5. In Thursday's Game 6 in Atlanta ...
A. The Bulls finally end this series.
B. The Hawks extend it to Game 7.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: B. The Hawks extend it to Game 7. I picked it to go seven. I see no reason to change now. The Hawks have represented themselves well in the playoffs. They remain confident that they not only can send the series back to Chicago for Game 7 but also pull off the upset. That might be a bit ambitious, but they should at least be able to defend their home court in Game 6.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: B. The Hawks extend it to Game 7. They seem to actually have a sense of urgency this year, and Al Horford is due for a big game. They'll get slaughtered back in the United Center in Game 7, but I think they can force the Bulls to sweat for a few more days.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: A. The Bulls finally end this series. The Bulls smell blood, and even though they are playing on the road, they see the end in sight. They should carry that strong fourth quarter from Game 5 into the next game, and get out to an early lead. At least that's what I tell myself to help me sleep.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: B. The Hawks extend it to Game 7. At the risk of making my clean sweep of being wrong about the Hawks throughout the playoffs come to a painful end, I'll pick the Hawks. The home crowd may be enough to prop up Teague and Johnson and Horford and Smith even if the minutes catch up with them in the fourth quarter again.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: I'm going with A. Part of me wants to go by how close this series has been and choose the home team, but this is a 62-win team versus a team that gave up more points than it scored this season. I'm choosing to play by those odds.
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