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Hawks start and finish strong to beat Bulls

The Atlanta Hawks never led the Chicago Bulls by more than four points in their three regular season meetings and had just one win to show for it. Monday night, the Hawks jumped out to a 10-point first-quarter lead and won their first Conference Semifinal game since 1997.

After that strong start, they closed the game well, taking control of the first and fourth quarters. Atlanta shot 59 percent from the field, outrebounded the Bulls and outscored them in the paint.

1st and 4th Quarters, Game 1

Atlanta had lost 15 straight games in the Conference Semifinals, dating to Game 2 in 1997 when they beat Chicago. That 15-game losing streak was the longest by any team in any round of the playoffs since the league switched to a conference format in 1970-71.

Joe Johnson scored 34 points, one shy of his playoff career high, and is the only Hawks player with a 30-point playoff game since Steve Smith in 1998.

He’s one of just three players in the past 20 postseasons to score 30 points and go 5-for-5 from three-point range. It’s the first time in his career that Johnson was perfect from three-point land in a playoff game.

Johnson’s five three-pointers are three more than he made in three regular season games against the Bulls. All five threes came in the half-court set. For the game, Johnson hit nine half-court jump shots for 23 points. Against Chicago in the regular season, Johnson hit a total of eight half-court jump shots totaling just 18 points.

The Bulls got a different Derrick Rose in this game, as the MVP failed to attempt a single free throw. Entering Game 1 he was averaging 12 free-throw attempts per game in the postseason, trailing only Dwight Howard.

Bulls W-L This Season
By Derrick Rose FTA PG

Throughout this season there’s been a direct correlation between Rose’s aggressiveness and the Bulls’ winning percentage.

Chicago’s only loss in the first round came when Rose attempted just four free throws, his only game in the series with fewer than seven.

Perhaps it was Kirk Hinrich being out that changed things for Rose. With Hinrich injured, Jeff Teague drew the primary defensive assignment on Rose. Teague, who played a combined nine minutes against the Magic in the first round, played 45 minutes Monday and limited Derrick Rose to 2-for-9 shooting while defending him.

In the fourth quarter, Rose got nine touches with Teague defending and didn’t attempt a single field goal.