Bulls connect the dots: Get a first quarter, get a win

Game 2

Joakim Noah gets fired up late in the fourth quarter. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune / May 4, 2011)

Derrick Rose looked like he was so hating the MVP trophy presentation before Game 2 of the Bulls’ playoff series against the Hawks. He appeared to be hoping Commissioner David Stern would shut up already so he he could play. So he could avenge that mess known as Game 1.

And then he did.

After missing his first couple shots, both jumpers, Rose found his stroke. And he found the lane. He drove, he hit, he passed. Heck, he even went to the free throw line, finishing the first half with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

But it wasn’t just Rose. It was every Bull, even Carlos Boozer at times, jacking up the volume on the effort and energy they couldn’t muster in Game 1.

That apparently was all the uninspired Hawks needed to look like a team that was happy with a road split. Like they would bother to sweat in Atlanta. Good luck with that approach.

Right behind Rose’s urgency and determination was the manic hustle of Joakim Noah, who finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, and provided more energy and drive than the entire Hawks’ roster.

Noah was the biggest reason the Bulls re-established their dominance on the boards. That’s where the Bulls live when they’re winning, and they’ve lived there by a stunning 58-39 margin in Game 2.

The Bulls also live on their defense, especially against a Hawks team that can shoot lights out even when opting for the worst one available. The Hawks shot better than 51 percent in Game 1, but the Bulls smothered them into 33.8 percent shooting on Wednesday.

The Bulls were particularly tough against Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, who combined for 56 points in Game 1 but managed only 27 in Game 2, seven fewer than Johnson alone had in the opener.

Where you really saw the Bulls at their defensive best was at the end. A double digit-lead shrunk to 77-71 with about four minutes to go. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout. The Hawks never made a basket the rest of the game, missing their last five shots.

We’re used to that kind of finish from this Bulls team. We’d like to get used to that kind of start. We’ll find out Friday if it’s portable.

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