I had the opportunity to pick the brain of ESPN Analyst Jon Barry on the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and the rest of the Eastern conference playoffs. Thanks to the folks over at ESPN for setting up the interview.
The Bulls format to win all season long has been to win behind dominant defense and a dominant offensive player. That system typically translates well to playoff success when the game slows down but that hasn't happened. Why do you think that is?
This is the first year this group has been together. They're a relatively young team, not a whole lot of playoff experience, and a rookie head coach. Just because you win 60 some games in the regular season doesn't mean you're going to play all that well in playoff time.
They've had their moments and have been up and down. The biggest question that's risen is "Do they have a guy after Derrick Rose?" If he's not getting it done offensively do they have anyone else they can rely on. Sometimes it's Deng, sometimes it's Boozer, but everything is predicated on what Derrick Rose does.
They don't have other guys who can break defenses down to make plays for others or themselves.
Atlanta struggled mightily down the stretch, but they beat Orlando and have put up a tough fight so far against Chicago. What has changed with Atlanta relative to their regular season?
They improved in a lot of areas, but mental toughness was the #1 issue with this team. When things would go bad, they'd fold the tents. We saw that the last couple years getting swept by Orlando and Cleveland. I think Kirk Hinrich brought a lot of that in that trade even though he's not playing right now.
Jeff Teague has really emerged, where did he come from? He's done way more than anyone could have imagined going up against the MVP. No one can really guard Rose, but Teague is holding up his end on offense.
It's funny how things work in the NBA, this guy doesn't play for two years, gets thrown in against the MVP in the playoffs, and steps up because he knows he doesn't have to look over his shoulder.
Speaking of Jeff Teague, did the Kirk injury actually help the hawks?
I thought losing Hinrich would really hurt the Hawks. I thought he was the only guy who could guard Rose or at least give him some troubles, because you can't really stop him. Hinrich is a terrific perimeter defender, and I thought him going out would be devastating for the Hawks.
You don't want to say it's good, you'd rather have him on the floor, but Jeff Teague has been unbelievable. He obviously is playing with more confidence than ever. He played behind Bibby last year, and the Hawks didn't think he was ready to take the job.
He didn't play with much confidence, he was always looking over his shoulder, but now he's somehow put that behind him and he's been terrific.
The Bulls had narrowed their rotation a bit for much of the playoffs, but in a crucial game five, they played Asik, Brewer, and Gibson for 13 straight minutes to close out the game until garbage time with great results, do you think these guys continue to play more the rest of the playoffs?
I think it's a night to night thing. You go in with your starters anticipating these guys are going to play 40 minutes a piece, but the game dictates who plays and how much. Some coaches don't change their team.
They won 60+ games for a reason, because what they did worked. You see a lot of coaches go into the playoffs and shrink their rotation which changes the dynamics of the team. Certainly I want Derrick Rose out there more. The stars are going to play more, but if you change your bench then you change your style.
It makes it more difficult if you don't play them early in the first round as well. They might not be ready in the second round then. I applaud coaches that play their guys. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if Thibodeau continues to play them.
Derrick Rose has never had much of a defensive reputation, but he was actually the first runner up for the all defensive teams, finishing with 14 points while Joakim Noah had just made the last spot on the second team with 15. Were you surprised by the recognition of his defense?
I hadn't ever heard about him being an all defensive player. Luol Deng didn't make any of the teams?
Deng had 11 points, he didn't make either team, just slightly below Rose.
I think Luol Deng has become one of the premier defenders at the position. He was terrific. He should have been on at least the second team.
I hadn't heard anything about Rose being all defensive anything, but I suppose that's a feather in his cap. He's improved, but I've never considered him one of the top notch defensive point guards in the game.
Derrick Rose has received some light criticism for shooting the ball to much. Do you think Rose is shooting too much or shooting because no one else can/will?
I think he's had to be aggressive. When you don't have that true number two scorer, a guy who can create for himself or others, a lot is asked of Derrick Rose. I don't want him to have to shoot 32 times like he did the other night, but the game dictates it.
If that's what he has to do and what the coach asked him to do then he has to do it. He's the best option. If you compare him to Russell Westbrook, I don't want Westbrook doing that. Rose needs to for this team, but Westbrook doesn't as he has Kevin Durant and James Harden, legitimate scorers. Derrick Rose needs to do that for the Bulls to win though.
Do the Bulls close it out in game 6 in Atlanta?
I really believe they do. You know you have Miami next. You know you need to play better basketball to win in that round. Putting two games together is something the Bulls haven't really done.
They need to take the defense from the fourth quarter in game five and play that way all the time. That's championship level defense. I think there's going to be carry over. They know it's time to win. They can win on the road like they did in game three. They want to get this thing done to have some preparation time for the Miami Heat.
Given the way the playoffs have unfolded so far do you view the Bulls as underdogs against Miami?
I would probably say the Bulls are the underdog despite beating them three time. You can make the argument that Miami is playing as good as any playoff team other than Dallas. When you look at James and Wade, it's really hard.
That one two punch is difficult to stop. I knew they'd be great, but they've exceeded expectations. They're such a handful to deal with. Look at the game last night. Wade goes for 23 in the first half and LeBron isn't a factor, then LeBron completely takes over in fourth quarter.
I thought they'd need to have more around them to be a championship level team this early. Their greatness has surpassed what I imagined. They're probably the favorites not just to beat Chicago but to win the whole thing.