ATLANTA – Hawks coach Larry Drew agreed with the suggestion that, for however long his team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against Chicago lasts, the pressure will stay on the Bulls.
Not that there was much profit in arguing otherwise for Drew or his team. But let’s face it, they have pushed the Bulls nearly to the brink, winning the opener in Chicago, then evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2 when things looked bleakest.
Now they have the home court for Game 6 Thursday. If they’re successful, the Hawks will have put the East’s No. 1 seed into a tense, don’t-mess-up predicament before a lusty but nervous United Center crowd on Sunday.
“I really do [feel the pressure is on Chicago],” Drew said after the morning shootaround at Philips Arena. “First of all, going into the series, nobody thought we would even be in Game 6. I give credit to my players, they have really stepped up to the challenge. I think they have positioned themselves very well – the games even that we lost, we were in position to win a couple of them in the fourth quarter. We’ve been very competitive. And now that we’re [down] 3-2 … we have nothing to lose.”
Drew said that good side-to-side ball movement will be essential to unseat Chicago’s halfcourt defense, which means he’ll want to minimize the Hawks’ tendency to lapse into isolation and 1-on-1 offensive play.
Then there’s dealing with MVP guard Derrick Rose, both when he has the ball in his hands (Rose is averaging 32.0 ppg in the series) and when he gives it up to double-teams. Bulls forward Luol Deng was more aggressive in Game 5 in attacking, with 11 points in the first quarter and 23 in the game, second on either club only to Rose’s 33.
Someone asked Hawks forward Josh Smith about the old view that it is hard to close out a playoff series.
“It’s also hard to not get closed out, too,” Smith said, realistically. “It’s not over yet. We still believe in ourselves. We’ve still got confidence that we can extend the series. We understand what’s at stake. We know that this could be the ending of our season and we don’t want that to happen.”
From the Bulls’ side, Rose made it sound as if Game 6 was the clincher, win or lose. Whether it’s focus or pressure driving that outlook, we might know late Thursday.
“This is the biggest game of our lives right here,” Rose said. “That’s the way we have to go into it, like this is our championship game. … It’s important to us. We’ll all try hard to go out here and seal the deal.”