Philippines, 13 Nov 2019
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NBA -- Down to the Wire?


PhilBoxing.com




CHICAGO -- It sure didn't feel like the last game of the regular season between two teams who already had guaranteed playoff spots.

However, Wednesday night (Thursday Manila time) in Chicago at the United Center, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 91-85, in a thrilling fourth quarter comeback win with both teams playing like their playoff futures depended on it.

With Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic fame sitting courtside and even participating in the mid-game human bowling ball game, the Hawks, sitting concretely atop the Eastern Conference going into this weekend's playoffs, saw head coach Mike Budenholzer start his four All-Stars: forward Paul Millsap, center Al Horford, guard Kyle Korver, and guard Jeff Teague.

And, all four players, including the Hawks' rising star Dennis Schroder played quality minutes, showing no need for rest before what hopefully is a deep playoffs run.

It is worth mentioning that in Wednesday's loss, the Hawks were without forward Thabo Sefolosha due to a season-ending fracture to his right fibula and torn ligaments. Sefolosha's ability to guard multiple positions is a major loss to the Hawks as they depended on him to take focus away from their key shooters.

The Hawks matched up Wednesday night against a Chicago Bulls team that was still trying to get back to full strength and rotation in the wake of guard Derrick Rose's late-season knee injury and post-surgery return four games ago.

However, the Bulls, having already clinched a playoff spot, were playing for seeding, as the Bulls entered the evening as the third seed and only one game ahead of the Toronto Raptors. A third seed would guarantee a first round matchup against the young, upstart Milwaukee Bucks.

However, a fourth seed would bring a tough matchup against the Washington Wizards, who coincidentally ended Chicago's playoff run in the first round last season with a decisive 4-1 result. Before the end of the Hawks-Bulls game, it was noted that Toronto had already finished its last regular season game against the Charlotte Hornets with a win, placing the onus on the Bulls to grab the third seed with a win.

The Bulls kept the game close, and although they were trailing for most of the game, they finally took the lead with less than five to go.

Of note was center Pau Gasol notching his career-high 54th double-double of the year. Also, forward Joakim Noah finished the regular season as the team's leader in assists with 312 despite sitting out Wednesday's game. Noah also led the Bulls with a career-high 431 assists last season. Center Nazr Mohammed played in his 1000th game of his NBA career. Now in his 16th season in the league, the Chicago native becomes the 115th player in NBA history to play in at least 1000 games.

In a strange set of circumstances, Wednesday night also produced the possibility of a never-before-seen situation where a conference's previous season's one and eight seeds switched places the following season. Last season, the Indiana Pacers made it their goal and obtained the one seed in the East, clinching home court advantage. Alternatively, last season's Hawks barely made it into the playoffs as the eight seed, but put up a fight against the Pacers in round one, causing that series to extend to a Game 7 and having the Pacers down 3-2 before Game 6.

This season, it's completely opposite. The Hawks took a more skilled approach to the season and ended up atop the Eastern Conference in the one seed. At the time of this article, the Pacers were clawing and scratching their way into the eight seed, only one game ahead of the ninth-place Brooklyn Nets and needing a win against the Memphis Grizzlies to clench the eighth and final seed in the East.

The Pacers would be a strong matchup for the Hawks, seeing as the Hawks have no true playoff experience together. Conversely, with the return of Paul George just in time for the playoffs, the Pacers' core group of George, David West, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert bring solid and deep playoff run experience, with the Pacers ending their regular season playing some of their best basketball coming into the playoffs.

Photo: D-Rose, as a precautionary measure, was held out of the second half of the Bulls' 91-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the United Center.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Kristy Gonowon.


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