Individually, the Hawks came into this series with more scorers than the Bulls, more players who could get their own shots. But Atlanta’s problem was, the Hawks usually played like a bunch of individuals.
The Bulls, meanwhile, had played like a team all season, especially defensively and on the boards, finding scoring where Derrick Rose wasn’t.
But suddenly, the Hawks are playing like a team at both ends in Game 5 on Tuesday the way they had in Game 4 on Sunday. Suddenly, the Hawks looked better than the Bulls, shooting over 50 percent against the best defense in the league and staying with the Bulls on the boards.
Worse, the Hawks were down only 69-68 after three quarters Tuesday, almost exactly the same score as the teams entered the fourth quarter Sunday, and we know how that turned out.
But not this time. Unlike the last fourth quarter, this time the Hawks fell apart and Rose didn’t.
The Hawks reverted to the individual play that has killed them. Their offense was stopped. They forced things. They took so many bad shots -- the Bulls forced them into so many bad shots -- that coach Larry Drew admonished his players during a timeout to “maintain composure’’ and “get a good shot.’’
Didn’t work. Too late. Whatever, the Bulls were taking down this one. Rose was taking down this one. Taj Gibson was taking down this one.
Yes, Taj Gibson.
Rose and Gibson each poured in 11 in the final period, accounting for all of Gibson’s scoring in the game, and together they combined for the bulk of the Bulls’ 26-15 onslaught in the final 12 minutes.
There would be no lights-out shooting for the Hawks the way there was in Game 4. The Hawks missed 8 of 13 shots and committed five turnovers. Of their five baskets, two came in garbage time. This was the Bulls’ blueprint: Defense, rebounding and transition baskets, or whatever else Rose wanted to do.
But the amazing thing about the defense was that it was keyed by three members of the “Bench Mob:’’ Gibson, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer. Gibson grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot, Asik got three boards and blocked a shot, as well, while Brewer yanked down five rebounds and managed two steals.
Full marks to coach Tom Thibodeau for going with the unit that was working. Joakim Noah, the backbone of the defense most of the season, was sitting down. It wasn’t his best night, and the unit Thibodeau had out there was his best of the night.
Whoever it was, when it mattered most, the Bulls owned the Hawks. They took a three-games-to-two lead the way they usually do: Rose had points and had company.
Can he get the same deal Thursday night?Copyright © 2015, RedEye