The Atlanta Hawks are looking to stare down the league MVP and take a commanding 2-0 lead back to Atlanta.
Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and the Hawks hope to pull off another expert-shattering upset when they take on the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup on Wednesday at the United Center (8:00 p.m. EDT, TNT, 97.9 FM).
The Hawks stunned and shushed some of the critics and won a good chunk of change for those that believed in Vegas when they humbled the Bulls in a 103-95 Game 1 win. Atlanta, which went off as a nine-point underdog, jumped all over Chicago at the start, posting the first nine points. Chicago made a game of it late, before the Hawks pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Johnson had one heck of a night, posting 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field, one shy of his playoff-career high. The Atlanta shooting guard was particularly deadly from beyond the arc (5-for-5) and from 16-to-23 feet (5-for-8).
That, along with a strong 22 point performance by Crawford, helped mask poor shooting night from Josh Smith (3-for-11), who was taking and missing way too many jumpers.
Game 1 also had its share of surprises. Derrick Rose, who was named the league's MVP on Tuesday, missed his first seven shots in the first quarter, but finished close to his season average with 24 points. He also tweaked his left ankle in the game's final play and depending on the source may or may not have had an MRI and may or may not have a Grade 2 sprain.
In any event, Rose practiced on Tuesday and is expected to suit up for Game 2.
Atlanta also did a bit of a switcheroo in Game 1, posting Al Horford on Carlos Boozer and Smith on Horford's former Florida teammate Joakim Noah. That may have confused the Bulls early on as they struggled, shooting just 29-percent (6-for-21) in the first quarter.
The Hawks also got a bunch of help from reserve Jeff Teague, who posted 10 points in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich. He also did a decent enough job fronting and frustrating Rose -- at least early on.
While Atlanta played well in their Game 1 win, there was a sense that they could do better. Yes, the defense was getting the necessary stops, but the offense at times was stagnant at times, played off kilter at others and failed to generate a ton of touches at the rim.
According to Hoopdata.com, the Hawks had 21 field goal tries at the hoop and another 13 between 3-9 feet from the bucket, while they had 39 long range shots from beyond 16 feet. The Bulls on the other hand established the post, taking 45 shots from inside and 36 from long range.
If Atlanta wants to be successful, they're going to have to reverse those numbers as you can't expect Johnson and Crawford to post those same long-range numbers in Game 2.
At the end of the day, the Hawks still do have matchup advantages over the Bulls at every position but the point (Rose vs. Teague) and possibly small forward (Luol Deng vs. Marvin Williams). Atlanta could win this game if they stick to the game plan, frustrate Rose and use that same grit and determination to grit their way to victory.
However, Vegas expects a different result. The Hawks enter Game 2 as 8.5 to 9 point underdogs once again and will return a cool +400 to every $100 bet on the money line. (That's another way of saying that no one expects in the U.S. gambling mecca expects Atlanta to win Game 2).
The Hawks have smashed Vegas thus far in the 2011 playoffs. They are 6-1 against the spread and 5-2 straight up through their first seven playoff games. If Atlanta can continue that trend, they'll come back to Atlanta in a commanding position for Game 3 on Friday.