Bulls forward Taj Gibson (center) says the Hawks’ style reminds him of his days playing at Rucker Park. | Paul Abell~AP
Updated: June 9, 2011 12:43AM
ATLANTA — Add some metal barriers around the court and a big chain-link fence behind the stands, and forward Taj Gibson would have a hard time telling the difference between Atlanta’s Philips Arena and New York’s famed Rucker Park.
Welcome back to the playground, Taj.
The Atlanta Hawks have brought the street to the NBA with their predilection for one-on-one ball, and their fan base feeds off the slam dunks, flashy ballhandling and no-look passes.
Gibson couldn’t help but make the comparisons to growing up in Brooklyn and playing in the Holy Land of playground hoops — Rucker Park in Harlem.
“Yeah, especially playing here in Atlanta,’’ Gibson said Saturday. “The crowd really gets into it. They love one-on-one play. They look forward to seeing a player get embarrassed so they can just cheer like crazy. It’s just like back home in New York. You go play at Rucker Park, the crowd is all into it. There are a lot of one-on-ones, and this [Hawks] team plays exactly the same way. They do a lot of one-on-one stuff and know how to expose guys.’’
Gibson started spending his summers at Rucker Park when he was 15 before leaving for USC, “and once you go to college, you can’t really play there anymore.’’
Rucker turned a boy into a man. Gibson played against streetball legend Junie Sanders, who once dropped 40 points on NBAer Jerry Stackhouse in a game at Rucker.
But Gibson thought his playground days were behind him.
“Every city has its own way of expressing itself, expressing how they like their basketball,’’ Gibson said. “This place [Atlanta] becomes a hostile environment, especially when they get a dunk or a nice crossover layup. It’s bananas in here. Players feed off of that, and they have a lot of high flyers on this team. Their team is a solid team when you look at it. They have a lot of high flyers, guys that can make a spectacular play off the dribble and using their ballhandling skills, and the crowd feeds off it and gives it back to them.’’
And that makes the Hawks dangerous, even though the Bulls took control of the series with their 99-82 victory Friday to go up 2-1.
The Hawks’ offensive sets — if they even take the time to run one — break down quickly. That’s when Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith are in their element. Like they showed in their Game 1 victory in Chicago, they don’t need much structure to make you pay.
Add the element of playing in Atlanta, and while the Bulls might be the better team, they know Game 4 has trap written all over it.
“It’s kind of tough playing against guys like this because you need the whole team to keep those guys at bay,’’ Gibson said. “Their eyes get kind of big when they see they have a one-on-one coverage. It’s all about surrounding them with a team game, just helping out on defense.’’
Even then, that’s not always enough.
“It’s a lot of one-on-ones,’’ guard Kyle Korver said. “A lot. It helps if they’re not shooting well.’’
But not everyone was buying what Gibson was selling.
Center Joakim Noah grew up in New York, and besides boastfully putting Rucker Park on his resumé of top playgrounds he has balled in, Noah also has done time at Dyckman Park and played at Kingdome.
“It really helped me get my confidence up,’’ Noah said of his time on the blacktop. “I feel like if you can play in those playgrounds in New York, I mean those are pretty hostile environments. If you can play there, you can play anywhere.’’
Asked about the comparison that Gibson made, however, Noah said, “Man, Taj never played in Rucker. No similarities at all [between Atlanta and the playgrounds]. What’s he talking about? ’Cause there’s black people in the stands?’’
Obviously, Noah creating chaos isn’t just reserved for the opposing team.