The Chicago Bulls evened up their series against the Hawks with a win at the United Center, and while they still played fairly poorly, they manage to head down to Atlanta tied up 1 to 1.
Things aren't looking so great though, as it seems more and more evident that the Bulls haven't played their best ball. Carlos Boozer and Keith Bogans might as well have tread marks tattooed on them for the number of times we've thrown them under the bus.
While they're still both issues, they aren't the real problem.
The real problem is Derrick Rose or more specifically his ankle
Or maybe, I should say, the real problem is Derrick Rose's ankle. When watching Rose, he looks like the November 09 Rose playing off a bum ankle without as much explosion or burst. That Rose simply isn't so dangerous, and while Derrick's game has evolved where he can do a ton more damage while limited now, the Bulls aren't going to defeat a good team with him playing at this level.
Is this ankle going to get better?
Now Rose won't admit it's the
ankle, the Bulls won't admit it's the ankle, but it's the ankle. Two
weeks ago, would Rose have a hard time getting to the rim when his
defender gave him 5 feet of space in front of him?
The space wouldn't give the defender time to recover, it'd give Rose
even more room to build up speed and get around him. Derrick's a
warrior playing through this thing and not wanting to make any excuses,
but we've seen this drill before.
The problem is the ankle is unlikely to get any better before the
off-season if we believe the grade two sprain report. He feels good
enough to play, good enough to walk without a limp, but not good enough
to explode through the paint as he normally would.
Atlanta is preying on Rose's weakness
Now Indiana played Rose with hyper-aggressive traps, daring anyone on the Bulls to beat them outside of Derrick. Rose didn't rack up a ton of assists due to two pass plays, but he dominated those games despite rather pedestrian shooting numbers.
Atlanta's doing something altogether different. They're giving Rose all the room in the world on the perimeter and jamming the paint. The philosophy teams defended Rose with early in his career which has brought up a conundrum.
Should Derrick Rose shoot the open three?
He's 3/15 in the series which is horrid. He's taken largely wide open three point shots, but he's not knocking them down. If Rose could hit some open threes, then Atlanta would be forced to come out and guard him, the lane would open up, and Rose could find his way to the basket to draw some fouls.
However, while he's not hitting them, he encourages this strategy even more. He's giving up good possessions in the attempts, not scoring points, and leaving the whole team in the paint to defend against him.
Outside of countering this strategy by making shots, Rose could remove the shot from his game altogether and try to work in higher percentage mid range jumpers. However, he hasn't been knocking that shot down nearly so well this season after extending his three point range, and there's no guarantee that shot is going to fall for him either, especially since it's a little rusty.
What can we do? Beat a dead horse
In the playoffs Chicago has played great offense and great defense with Korver on the court. They've crushed their opponents. They've played unbelievable defense and terrible offense when he's off the court resulting in their opponents beating the Bulls on average while he's off.
It's largely in the spacing. Korver was 1-9 last game, but his presence alone opened up plenty of shots for Chicago. He's the only player outside of Derrick that commands considerable defensive attention, and he does so even while the ball is not in his hands, so he gets the defense moving around when he's on the court which creates openings for other players.
Carlos Boozer hit a wide open layup at the rim on one possession because both defenders went out to chase Korver on a backscreen set by Boozer. It was a ridiculous looking play seeing the Hawks give up a wide open shot two feet from the rim because they were scared of Korver potentially getting open beyond the arc.
However, that's the type of thing he does. He makes the defense move. He makes the defense account for him, and in doing so, he opens up the floor for everyone else and while Derrick plays on one and a half wheels, Chicago needs that (okay you know I think they need it all the time).
Derrick's limitations have turned the series against Atlanta into a tightly contested affair. They're one and one, but the Hawks could have taken game two with the way the Bulls offense played.
Chicago should feel legitimately threatened in this series the way they're playing right now, and they're not going to turn it around by cranking up the defense more, they're going to hope to squeak by.
Should Chicago advance, and I think they will, then the real test will come against Miami. Miami looks incredibly dominant right now, and their games against Boston weren't nearly as close as the box scores. Chicago has no chance to win that series at all without a considerable improvement in the offense.