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Hawks’ offensive prowess blisters Bulls’ defense in series opener


Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

We all need to stop overlooking the Atlanta Hawks.

We’re just making them mad. Mad enough to turn the Madhouse on Madison upside down Monday night.

It was a night that began with Tom Thibodeau receiving his coach of the year award and ended with reports that Derrick Rose will receive his league MVP award today.

The MVP award will indeed be given to Rose today, a Sun-Times source confirmed.

Somebody forgot to tell the Hawks, who spoiled things for the NBA’s top coach and best player, beating the Bulls 103-95 in the first game of this second-round series before a stunned crowd of 22,890 at the United Center.

Orlando’s Jameer Nelson famously told Rose he’d see him in the second round, and we all know how that worked out.

Fans and media seem to overlook the Hawks. But the Bulls insist that they don’t. Never did and never will.

‘‘No-o-o,’’ Rose said. ‘‘We know the type of players they have and what they’ve been doing. They beat a good Orlando team. They’re playing great right now.’’

Rose rolled his left ankle, which he had sprained in Game 3 of the Indiana series, but said that won’t be a problem: ‘‘It hurts right now, but I should be good.’’

The problem was, the Bulls didn’t muster their vaunted defense, which allowed Joe Johnson to go off for 34 points and ex-Bull Jamal Crawford to enjoy a 22-point homecoming.

‘‘We must do a better job on those two guys,’’ forward Carlos Boozer said. ‘‘I know they hit some tough shots. But we have to make them miss those shots. They torched us tonight.’’

Atlanta shot 51 percent to the Bulls’ 45 percent.

‘‘They played great,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘When you let a team shoot 50 percent in the playoffs, you’re not going to win too many of those games.’’

Boozer, who had missed practice all week after suffering a turf-toe injury on his right big toe, returned to the lineup and had 14 points and eight rebounds.

‘‘It was OK,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘Very painful, but as the adrenaline started flowing in the game, I was able to deal with it. Hopefully, it keeps getting better.’’

Defense is how the Bulls had run their record to 39-5 at home coming into this game. And defense is why that record is now 39-6.

‘‘Our defense was pretty poor tonight,’’ said center Joakim Noah, dismissing the theory that the Bulls were rusty after a layoff of nearly a week. ‘‘There’s no excuses right now. We’re playing for something big. We understand that. That was not one of our best efforts.’’

Atlanta’s early 9-0 lead was troubling; the Hawks’ 15-4 run at the start of the fourth quarter, which gave them an 87-75 lead, was a dagger.

‘‘There wasn’t one aspect of the defense that was good,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Once they got that lead and got their confidence, they’re hard to slow down.’’

Why wasn’t the edge on defense there?

‘‘That’s a great question,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The big thing is, when you’re coming off three days of practice and two days off prior to that, you should have high energy and intensity — and we didn’t have that. If you don’t have an edge, you’re asking for trouble.’’

Rust. Complacency. An off-night against a team that had a couple of hot hands. The Bulls aren’t interested in dissecting the Game 1 cadaver at this point. What they want is their next chance to operate.

‘‘Definitely,’’ Rose said. ‘‘We’re anxious. I think the guys are focused. Everybody knows we let one slip at home. The only thing we can do is learn from it.’’

Even when you have the NBA’s best record, there’s still a lot to learn.

‘‘Coach always said play with an edge,’’ Rose said. ‘‘It wasn’t there tonight. We have to go over some things, like miscommunication. Some guys weren’t talking. But that could easily be fixed. We should be all right next game.’’

This may have been a wake-up call. But the Bulls are hardly panicking.

‘‘All we’re trying to do is get to four,’’ Rose said, ‘‘and go on to the next one.’’

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