Sometimes the game of basketball is also a game of chess. And if you use the recently completed series between the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls as an example, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finally forced Hawks coach Larry Drew into checkmate.
Not that it was an easy task for the first-year workaholic Chicago tactician.
Atlanta took control in the first game of the series, shocking the so-called experts with an impressive 103-95 road win. In that one, the Bulls went to single coverage on Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford and the duo combined for 56 points.
But Thibodeau quickly made the adjustment. Johnson and Crawford were never the same.
"After the first game, they just started trapping me,and Jamal, not giving us a chance to play," Johnson said shortly after the Hawks were eliminated in Game 6. "We were forced to do a lot."
But it was Drew who came up with the next adjustment, changing his lineup by going "big" with Jason Collins in the middle. That gave the Hawks the edge inside and allowed them to even up the series.
It was NBA's reigning coach of the year that put the Hawks in check by blowing the game open in an otherwise even Game 5 by going to a suffocating defensive alignment in the final quarter and took the series back to Atlanta with a 12-point win.
A combination of defense paired with a very active offense that finished off the series in Game 6 -- something that definitely wasn't lost on Atlanta's players in the locker room after the series was over. Chicago dished an astounding 34 assists on 41 field goals in a 93-73 win.
"I think they're the best team in the league," center Zaza Pachulia said after the loss. "They play like it defensively and offensively. Guys accept roles."
Of course, it also helped that the Bulls have a budding superstar in Derrick Rose, who can not only score on offense, but also dish the basketball. The NBA MVP leads all Chicago scorers with an average of 28.8 points and 9.8 assists over his first 11 playoff games.
If there's one knock on the Jekyll-and-Hyde Hawks, it's that "Team Jekyll" is very active on the court, distributes the basketball and it's that movement, that creates spacing and allows Atlanta's shots to fall. When those shots fall, it's a heck of a lot easier to get set on defense.
"Team Hyde" is less active offensively. They take bad and rushed shots. Their transition game suffers and the other team gets easy buckets in transition.
In the NBA, that's usually the difference between winning and losing. Especially against a good team like the Bulls in a hotly contested chess match in the postseason.
"We've been preaching all year long about ball movement and spacing," Drew said. "You have to space the floor, you have to move the ball, you have to force the defense to shift. And then you have to look to attack. You cannot settle against a team like (the Bulls). They zero in on that pretty well."
Unfortunately for Atlanta, they did just that on Thursday and for the third consecutive year, they will be "goin' fishing" after making it to the second round.
Josh Smith, for one, thinks the future is bright for Atlanta's basketball team.
"This team does (have more than second-round talent)," he said. "We're a veteran group. We understand and know what it takes in order to be successful. We maybe need a little more added help, and we'll be fine."