ESPN's bringing out the big guns tonight for the broadcast with Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown doing the play by play (seriously, Tirico is one of my favorite play by play guys, and Brown is one of the best in the business at adding analysis). Stuart Scott and my new best friend Jon Barry are doing the Kia NBA Countdown at 6:30.
I've got tickets to game seven, but I'm hoping that I don't need to use them because the Bulls closed things out tonight.
ABC Bulls fans. Always Be Closing.
The Chicago Bulls have a considerable edge in the series against the Hawks. They're the better of the two teams and only need to win one of the next two games in order to advance.
That said, no one wants to go back to Chicago and play a one game series against Atlanta. Miami has already advanced, and the Bulls should be highly motivated to end this thing tonight.
As such, they need to come out with a ton of energy, put their foot down, and beat the fight right out of Atlanta. The Hawks have had issues folding when the chips are down the past two seasons and an early lead could fray them at the edges.
Derrick Rose needs to repeat game five
It'd be even better if he could repeat game three, but that might be asking a bit much. In game five, Rose made outstanding decisions, slashing to the lane when he had a good opening and had much easier finishes at the rim than in game four.
As such, he scored in a very efficient manner which propped up the Bulls offense considerably. The Bulls need Rose to continue to force the issue when he can do so successfully but get everyone involved when he can't.
He relied on Taj Gibson down the stretch of game five, and Gibson delivered. Who will step up this game?
The Bulls annihilated the Hawks on defense in the fourth quarter of game five. They did so by throwing Rose out there with a bunch of defensive superstars. Asik, Gibson, Brewer, and Deng is a murderers row for the opposing team to get good looks against.
Will the Bulls go to similar looks again tonight? The only real weak links on this team defensively are Boozer and Korver. Both played considerably fewer minutes than their average last game.
Luol Deng has been suffocating Joe Johnson lately, and the Bulls have been successful defending Johnson with Derrick Rose as well. Look for the Bulls to continue to try and force someone other than JJ to beat them.
Who's in the rotation?
Obviously Derrick Rose and Luol Deng will get their 40+ minutes, but how will the rest of the pieces fill in? Kyle Korver barely played last game. Carlos Boozer's minutes were way down. Gibson, Brewer, and Asik were way up.
At this point, I'd look to play Gibson over Boozer for as much as possible. I understand not wanting to snub Carlos, but his turf toe has considerably lessened what he's able to do out there. It's to the point where Gibson simply looks better on both ends of the court.
I'd like to see a heavier dose of Korver than we saw last game, but Kyle can't continue to shoot as poorly as he did and still get minutes. His spacing helps the team, but he's still got to knock down shots.
If the Bulls jump out to an early lead, it wouldn't surprise me to see Chicago go with a heavy defensive mix and slow down the game, forcing the Hawks to hit a lot of shots under heavy duress to make a comeback.
Own the glass
The Bulls personnel should again have a huge advantage on the glass. When Chicago gets offensive rebounds in quantity it compensates for what can be an anemic offense at times.
Taj, Boozer, and Noah should continue to crash the glass hard on offense while our guards sprint back to help cover on defense.
Swing the ball side to side
Atlanta is athletic, but they aren't all that disciplined defensively. If the Bulls can make accurate passes from side to side then they'll open up all kinds of holes for their offense to operate in. They need to avoid getting too static and standing around watching Rose bail them out.
Though it hasn't been a problem, Rose needs to continue to trust in his teammates and be ready to get the ball back when he passes it off as he frequently finds more space when receiving the ball from an interior pass.
The Hawks have made this series far more difficult than the Pacers series, and while I've never really felt the Bulls were in danger of losing, the Hawks certainly have enough talent to take down the Bulls if Chicago shows up with its B game.
Hopefully that doesn't happen tonight, and Chicago Rolls on to the ECF.