The Bulls forgot about Joe Johnson and he made them pay. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
CHI 117 ATL 129: Here are some game notes from the first half of Saturday night’s game. (I missed the second half due to a previously scheduled engagement.)
- Joe Johnson got a lot of open looks, including a couple of wide open threes which he buried. This was as “in rhythm” as I have seen Joe in a while. It was a little surprising to see some of the Bulls’ defenders forget about him on defense. If I were the opposing coach, my game plan would be to double team Joe and let everyone else beat me. The Bulls apparently did not go with that strategy.
- Josh Smith played one of his best games of the season. I was hard on him in my previous post, but against the Bulls he really attacked the rim. Smith constantly drove the basketball and was able to draw a number of fouls from Nocioni (who in my opinion is a slow but underrated defender). You could see “Noc” get under Smith’s skin at times, but Josh held his on and kept battling. On one play in particular, Josh had the ball about 15 feet out, thought about the long jumper, pump faked and drew the foul on the way to the rim. A perfect play on that possession.
- Pachulia came off the bench and provided some key minutes. He especially looked comfortable on offense and has started to use his left hand more to finish at the rim. Assuming the Hawks don’t trade for another big, he’s going to play a huge role down the stretch for this team.
- The Bulls set the tempo and Hawks matched it with no problem. I think its a mistake to tempt these Hawks to run (as the Bulls found out). There aren’t many teams as athletic as the Hawks who can match their game speed.
- Derrick Rose is the next superstar. No doubt about it. The dude attacks the rim better than anyone not named Kobe, Lebron and D-Wade. I saw Marvin at times try to guard him, but Rose was simply to quick to the hoop. It’s almost as though he’s capable of getting to the rim whenever he sets his mind to it. If he had a supporting cast – he doesn’t – the Bulls would be legitimate contenders for the 8 seed in the East.
- Marvin Williams is quietly improving his game. While I think his “aggressiveness” meter is turned up to about a 7 (out of 10), he’s playing with increased enthusiasm. Moreover, he’s distinguished himself as the third scorer on this team. I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game, which is scary given that he’s a pretty good player as is.
The Hawks still won despite an off night from Mike Bibby.
GS 99 ATL 115: It wasn’t the prettiest game ever, but the Hawks took care of business against the defensively challenged Warriors on Friday night. This was my first real look at the Warriors and I was amazed with their non-chalant approach to playing the game. They take poor shots, play absolutely no defense, and rarely try to contest shots.
Despite the Warriors poor play, the Hawks were still scratching and clawing their way to the victory mark late in the third quarter before making a breakaway. A breakaway that was in fact fueled by a bench player. (Surprise) Flip Murray came off the bench to drop 20 and help push the Hawks to a 16-10 mark.
The Warriors were fielding what looked like a JV team Friday. Starters Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette were out of action due to injury and former starter Monta Ellis is still recovering from a devastating off-season injury. That left heavy minutes for the likes of Marco Bellinelli, Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Morrow. Bellinelli and Morrow played surprisingly well, each showing strong outside shooting. Bellinelli dropped a game high 27 points, but didn’t do it solely from long distance. He was able to attack the rim and in one instance went right at Marvin Williams for a one handed reversal.
Perhaps the Warriors remind some of the Hawks of old, but I’m not sure I quite see it. Even in the first couple of years of the rebuilding process under Woody, the Hawks at least tried to play defense. Moreover, the Hawks had a go to offensive player in Joe Johnson after the Phoenix trade. I’m not sure the same can be said of the Warriors, although Stephen Jackson could arguably come close. My point being while the brand of basketball the Warriors play may be fan pleasing and exciting to watch, I question whether it can ever be successful long term. The Hawks are finally in the upper echelon in the East; I doubt we will the say the same of the Warriors in three years.
RONDO’S LEGITIMACY: Watching the Hawks-Celtics game Wednesday night, the one player that really stuck out at me was Rajon Rondo. He is a game changer and a humongous part of what the Celtics do on both offense and defense. Although the big three are clearly aging, they have received a strong boost from their young point guard, whose uncanny ability to attack the basket on offense and disrupt plays on defense remains a perfect fit for the defending champions. The Celtics are definitely beatable this season. But they have all the makings of a seasoned, playoff tested team who can will themselves to win – on the home or on the road. The last three minutes of Wednesday’s game resembled a boxing match in the 12th round, with each fighter exchanging blows again and again. Kevin Garnett was nearly unstoppable, while Joe Johnson nearly proved to be his equal match until his final missed free throw. Say what you want about Joe missing that shot, but I wouldn’t want anyone else on that line. I guarantee you Joe will be back on the line in the final moments of another game this season: he won’t miss that same shot again.