ATLANTA – When center Jason Collins started all six games of the Hawks’ first-round series against Orlando, he contributed eight points, 11 rebounds, one assist, two blocked shots – and 22 fouls. The veteran 7-footer threw around hi size (265 pounds) as a presence and a load on Magic center Dwight Howard, clogged the middle and helped Atlanta enough for another trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Collins had seen scant time against Chicago through three games – just 4.2 minutes per, actually – but that was due to change with Hawks coach Larry Drew’s decision to go big for Game 4. The Bulls aren’t built around a big man like Orlando, but Drew got tired of seeing MVP guard Derrick Rose slashing unobstructed to the rim Friday on his way to 44 points.
Sticking Collins in at center, shifting Al Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward, gives Drew a bigger frontline more capable of fouling Rose or other Bulls attackers with authority.
“It’s time for a change,” said Drew, about 90 minutes before tipoff. Down 1-2 in the best-of-seven showdown, his team faced possible elimination heading to Chicago for Game 5 if it did not even the series Sunday.
Noah isn’t a traditional low-post player and he’ll present Collins with a more mobile target than Howard. In Games 2 and 3, the Bulls center grabbed 15 of his 29 rebounds on the offensive end.
Said Drew: “I have all the confidence in the world that Jason will be able to keep him off the glass.”
Horford has had little impact at times in the series, and getting him away from Noah and into a matchup with the hobbled Carlos Boozer could be a plus for the Hawks. It also forces Bulls forward Luol Deng to defend the bigger, stronger Smith.
“We’re prepared for whatever it is they’re going to do,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The rebounding changes. We’ve got to make sure we’re blocking out. Be more aggressive. It’s all part of it. Lu can guard three’s, four’s, two’s. He can guard multiple positions.”