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Hawks swoop Game 1


PhilBoxing.com





Eastern Conference Semis

When Joe Johnson was at the cusp of free agency last July, the Bulls, Knicks, Heat and Clippers were among the teams that aggressively pursued him.

The courtship ended abruptly when the Atlanta Hawks tendered a six-year, $119 million contract extension, a deal no other team could match and one that Johnson simply couldn't refuse.

Last Monday night at the United Center in Chicago, Johnson proved his worth among the NBA's highest-paid elite, scoring 34 points as the Hawks stunned the Bulls, 103-95, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals.

A four-time All-Star, Johnson, swished 12 of his 18 shots, including 5-of-5 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the free throw stripe.

The 6-foot-7, 245-lb Johnson capped his all-around performance with four rebounds, three assists and three steals. The only fly in his ointment was three turnovers.

Johnson, 29, was a nightmare for the defensive-minded Bulls. He nailed shots off the dribble, off screens, and off a fastbreak. And when he was well-covered, he wasn't reluctant to pass either.

Johnson got ample support from his teammates, especially from ex-Bull Jamal Crawford, who chipped in 22 points on 8-of-16 from the field, 2-of-4 from 3-land, and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.

The Hawks made 40 of 78 foeld goals (51.3 percent ) and netted 7-of-13 treys (53.8 percent). The Hawks converted 16 of 20 free throws and narrowly outrebounded the heftier Bulls, 38-37.

OUT OF SYNC. In sharp contrast to the Hawks' terrific play, the Bulls were flat as an ironing board.

The Bulls trailed early and often. They were careless with 11 turnovers and miserable on offense, making just 37 of 83 shots.

And the Bulls vaunted defense was palpably missing in action, surrendering a mind-bending 103 points after holding the Indiana Pacers to just 90.2 per game in the previous series.

Derrick Rose had flashes of the brilliance that had come to define his MVP season. But on this fateful Game 1, Rose didn't smell so good.

He missed his first five shots and ended up making only 11 of 27 field goals overall. His 3-point shooting betrayed him -- 2 for 7 -- and three turnovers diminished his 10 assists.

Alarmingly, Rose attempted as many free throws as this writer had. None.

So why is Rose suddenly shy in driving to the hoop?

The Hawks say its their defense. Bulls fans believe it's the bothersome left ankle, which Rose sprained against the Pacers.

Truth be told, only Rose knows. All I know is that Chicago can't win this season if Rose isn't shooting any free throws.

Game 2 of this best-of-7 series returns Wednesday night at the United Center.

Stay tuned. (HDS)


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Homer D. Sayson.


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