The signs were there, but I guess no one saw them. Atlanta, fresh after beating the Orlando Magic in their first round series without home advantage came into Chicago and beat the Bulls 103-95 behind a huge night from Joe Johnson, finishing with 34 points and 5-5 from three point land. On the West Coast, the Mavericks came back from a 16 point deficit in the second half to claim game 1 with a 96-94 win, led by who else by Dirk Nowitzki with 28 points and 14 rebounds.
Lets begin with the East, where a hobbling Derrick Rose exit does not bode well for the Bulls who finished the regular season with the best record and came out 4-1 winners from their first round series. As sources around the league whispered about Rose’s MVP award coming on Tuesday, Rose didn’t have a very good night, and the Bulls go where he goes.
‘We lacked intensity, it wasn’t right‘ said head coach Tom Thibodeau – ‘The start of the game was poor in terms of ball direction, in terms of challenging shots, in terms of showing help. There wasn’t one aspect of the defense that was good. They’re too good of a team to play like that.
Like in the Indiana series, the Bulls looked out of sorts in the beginning and had to chase the Hawks who look like a totally different team than the one that lost to Chicago 114-81 not too long ago in the regular season. Joe Johnson became just the third player in the last 20 years to score over 30 points and go 5-5 from beyond the three point line, joining Daniel Gibson (2007) and injured teammate Kirk Hinrich (2005) who did it with the Bulls.
As Thibodeau said, the Bulls lacked intensity, there’s no other word for it. The defensive effort was lacking and they settled for tough shots or jumpers instead of pushing inside. Derrick Rose, obviously bothered by his ankle, struggled early and just refused to cut inside. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists while shooting 11-27 from the field. The Hawks did a very good job of keeping Chicago off the offensive glass, allowing only 10 rebounds, something they suffered from in the regular season match ups.
Jamal Crawford scored 22 in a fantastic post season for him (averaging 20.5 points per game), equaling the output of the entire Bulls bench. “We’re the team nobody talks about” He said after the win. They certainly our now.
Off to the West Coast – In the teams’ first playoff meeting since 1988, the Dallas Mavericks showed poise and character usually affiliated with the Lakers during their recent title runs. Coming back from a 16 point deficit, the Mavs, who struggled early on and settled for too many jump shots and nearly lost their heads as the first half was winding down, were the ones who knew how to close out this game.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds (27.3 and 7.8 in the playoffs) in another fine performance, scoring the two free throws that finally gave the Mavs a hold of the lead with less than a minute to go. Andrew Bynum never got going, neither did Ron Artest. Tyson Chandler did a good job down low, finishing with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. Pau Gasol finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Despite his good game, the Lakers didn’t have enough down the stretch. Kobe Bryant, with 36 points, like we’ve written a million times, can’t get it done on his own anymore.
Jason Terry added 15 from and it seemed that the Mavs had just enough chipping in from every guy down the stretch to get the win. The execution was suddenly there after a bad first half. The Mavs fell to 60-44 in the third quarter but went on a 20-6 run. That seemed to break the Lakers. They’ve now lost both openers, at home, of their playoff series this season. How will they regroup, and how many technicals will be dished out during this series with not much love between the teams (already three this game).