Last night the NBA postseason began with the newly implemented Play-In Tournament, where the last two official playoff spots are earned through a mini-tournament of the seven-through-ten seeds of each conference. The Atlanta Hawks visited the Miami Heat as five-point underdogs, and the score after the final buzzer was great news for the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks are now the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and will meet the Boston Celtics in their first-round matchup. Just how much did it help Chicago? Let’s take a look.
Road To The Playoffs Is Set
The Bulls have a long road ahead of them, literally and figuratively. Tonight, they visit the Raptors in Toronto, and should they pull off the upset, their next opponent is now official. The Miami Heat will be waiting to host whichever team is victorious tonight, and that matchup on Friday will determine the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The winning prize? Meeting the juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs fresh off of a week’s rest meanwhile, the eighth seed will have just played two games over four days.
Best Case For Chicago
While at first glance, many might think Atlanta would have been the easier draw than the Miami Heat, it’s quite the opposite for the Chicago Bulls. This season, the Bulls split the season series with the Hawks 2-2, including two buzzer-beaters and one crucial home loss that ultimately led the Hawks to the eighth seed and the Bulls to the tenth seed at the season’s end. This was without their leader and star, Trae Young, last week.
Against Miami this season, the Bulls are a perfect 3-0, with no victory coming by less than eight points. This includes two wins coming on the road, where they’ll have to win on Friday if they survive tonight’s elimination game. In their latest meeting, Patrick Beverley splashed home five threes, DeMar DeRozan had an impressive 24 points and ten assists, and Coby White added 18 points with four threes off the bench.
Atlanta’s Winning Formula
The Hawks were in cruise control last night in Miami, leading the entire way and never looking back. Rebounding, and more specifically, offensive rebounding, was the name of the game. The Hawks boasted a 22-to-6 advantage on the offensive glass and outrebounded Miami 63-to-39 overall. The silver lining comes via the three-point line, where Atlanta only shot 10-for-41, still controlled the game’s pace, and was victorious. Chicago’s lack of outside shooting and tenacity on the offensive glass is a formula they have the facilities and capabilities to mirror on Friday in Miami.
Miami is a great matchup for Chicago in the size department as well. Their starting center Bam Adebayo stands at 6’9″ compared to Vucevic’s 6’11”, and the next tallest player in the starting lineup is only 6’7″, adhering to the Bulls’ smaller lineup of DeRozan at the four. There was only one player on their roster taller than 6’7″ that played over four minutes, meaning they run very small consistently. While the Bulls don’t have overwhelming size, Andre Drummond, Derrick Jones Jr., and Vucevic will surely have the height advantage on any matchups they could draw.
Task At Hand: Toronto Raptors
While the Bulls undoubtedly saw the result of last night’s Hawks versus Heat matchup, they cannot look past a Toronto team they’ve struggled with all season. Opposite of the above-mentioned Miami lineup, the Raptors have incredible size and length, and the Bulls could realistically be in a similar situation as the Heat were last night if they’re unable to control the glass. Look for Drummond and Patrick Williams early and often to combat the size difference.
Tune in tonight at 6:00 PM central on ESPN, where it is win-or-go-home for the Chicago Bulls.
Will this be their last game of the season, or can the Cinderella story begin tonight?
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