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In Bulls’ defense . . . there was none

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Irony.

You don’t want a lot of it in your life.

But, uh, on the very day that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the severe, defensive-minded maniac, was awarded his first-ever NBA Coach of the Year award, his top-rated team got waxed by a brutal offensive attack from the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

That’s pretty much the definition of ironic.

And it’s not terribly funny. For the losers, that is. Which the Bulls are.

The Hawks won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals 103-95, and they shot a blistering 51.3 percent from the field — 53.8 percent on three-pointers. That’s not defense; that’s Ole’! with a red Bulls matador’s flag.

If this was genius defense, then Paris Hilton is Madame Curie.

‘‘We were good offensively,’’ said Hawks coach Larry Drew, redundantly acknowledging that his players’ shot selections were especially nice.

Part of the point of great defense is that you don’t allow foes to get comfortable, don’t let them ‘‘select’’ their shots.

Maybe Hawks off-guard Joe Johnson is one of the best shooters in the NBA — did you know that Bulls? Are you aware of that now? You sure? — but when he goes 12-for-18 from the floor, 5-for-5 on threes and 5-for-5 on free throws for 34 points, you have made him a superstar.

‘‘Joe Johnson basically got where he wanted to go,’’ Thibodeau acknowledged.

Crawford just did what he does

That’s not what Thibs teaches. Nor does he teach allowing a professional, well-known gunner like Jamal Crawford to take his smooth jumper at his pleasure. Crawford came off the bench, as he does, and finished with 22 points on 50 percent shooting, including 50 percent on threes and 4-for-4 from the line.

If those two had gotten any more comfortable, they would have needed pipes, bathrobes and dancing girls.

Bulls star Derrick Rose seemed to brush off the defensive mistakes.

‘‘Miscommunication, guys aren’t talking,’’ he said. ‘‘It can easily be fixed. We’re not worried about that.’’

Other people are, though.

These Hawks may have flown a few feet under the radar this season, beating the higher-ranked Orlando Magic in the previous playoff round and featuring guys named Williams, Johnson, and Smith. But they are dangerous and loaded.

Before the game, usual starting point guard Kirk Hinirich limped through the United Center hallway in street clothes with a hamstring injury that made him resemble peg-legged Captain Ahab on a slippery deck. But fill-in point guard Jeff Teague is a 6-2, 180-pound blur who had almost as many great moves to the basket as soon-to-be-crowned MVP Rose.

Teague finished with 10 points, five asists, two rebounds and just one turnover in almost 45 minutes of play.

Quick deficit a big problem

Somehow the Bulls should have taken advantage of these upstart Hawks, and one wonders if the sheer splendor of seeing their coach honored and knowing their 22-year-old point guard is soon to be honored made them lose their focus and heart.

‘‘When you don’t have an edge, you’re asking for trouble,’’ Thibodeau said glumly.

And the Bulls came out about as sharp as a spatula.

Before three minutes were gone, they were down 9-0. You have to say to yourself: If we were to stop the game right now and start anew — with any opponent having a nine-point lead — what are the chances of winning in a tough, evenly-matched league?

Lousy is the only answer.

The Bulls need to remember where they are, how far they are, how hard it gets now.

They gave up just 91.3 points per game during the regular season and just 90.2 during these playoffs. Prior to the Hawks.

Part of the problem is that even if the Bulls have some veterans on the team, they have not collectively been this far into the playoffs.

The Bulls made it to the conference finals four years ago as a fifth seed, and they lost 4-2 to the Detroit Pistons.

Before that, the last time they had been this far was in 1998, an NBA championship club led by Michael you-know-who.

So a bunch of stuff has to be cleared up very quickly, or home advantage is gone — if it isn’t already — and the Bulls might become a team that seemed to have it all and then gagged with the mounting pressure.

A review of the strategy

The Hawks’ Johnson sensed the opportunity.

‘‘It’s big,’’ he said of the upset. [Remember all the radio talkers and TV analysts blabbing about a Bulls sweep?] ‘‘The regular season is over. The playoffs are a whole new season.’’

Yes, they are.

As Thibodeau said, trying to explain what was wrong with his team, there are two parts to his revered defensive strategy.

First, the players must analyze whether they are playing the scheme ‘‘properly.’’ Then, and most important by far, ‘‘You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you doing it hard enough?’  ’’

No irony there at all.



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