If the Chicago Bulls didn't know what they were up against in their NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks, they sure do now. And on Monday, his name was Joe Johnson.
Johnson was red hot for the Hawks in game one of the series, scoring 34 points on 5 of 5 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. His shooting propelled the Hawks to a 103-95 victory over the Bulls on Monday night at the United Center. The win gives the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Bulls entered the series after nearly a week of rest following their victory over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, but it was Atlanta that emerged fresher and more aggressive from the opening tip on Monday.
The Bulls struggled early and were down by as many as 11 points in the first half, before rallying back to within one on the strength of forward Luol Deng's 17 first-half points. By late in the third quarter, the Bulls had pulled ahead of the Hawks, but then fell flat as Atlanta went on an 8-0 run and never looked back.
In the end, the Bulls struggled defensively and simply couldn't find an answer to the Hawks' Joe Johnson. Jamal Crawford, last season's NBA Sixth Man Award winner and a former player for the Bulls during the early 2000s, scored 19 off the bench for the Hawks, including a late three pointer with a minute to go to put the game away. Overall, the Hawks shot 51 percent from the field.
Bulls MVP candidate Derrick Rose was uncharacteristically quiet, missing his first 8 attempts from the field and failing to make it to the foul line even once during the game. He finished with 24 points.
Both teams entered the series with bumps and bruises to key players. The Bulls' Carlos Boozer has been suffering turf toe and Derrick Rose played Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers with a sprained ankle.
Meanwhile, former Bulls player Kirk Hinrich sat out Game 1 and remains doubtful for the rest of the series. He pulled his right hamstring during the fourth quarter of Atlanta's final game against the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs.
Game Two is scheduled for Wednesday night at the United Center. The winner of this series will go on to play either the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat, the two and three seeds in the Eastern Conference.