As Derrick Rose limped away from a stunning 103-95 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, the message was clear: Don't treat Atlanta like an underdog. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead and withstood the Bulls' second-half rally behind Joe Johnson's 34-point night as Atlanta, which played deep in the shadows of the East's powers all season, continued to show that it shouldn't be taken lightly.
• Johnson was brilliant, as he has been in past seasons against Chicago. The only two 40-point games he has posted in the last three seasons came against the Bulls. But Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes handcuffed Johnson in their three regular-season meetings this year. He never managed more than 16 points in those games while shooting 39 percent from the field, so it should come as no surprise that Atlanta dropped the last two meetings by an average of 25.5 points. This time Johnson buried all five of his three-point attempts and slashed for runners and layups against a normally stiff Bulls defense while sinking 12-of-18 shots. Given their success against Johnson this year, it's likely the Bulls will find a way to slow him down in the games to come. But the Hawks already hold the momentum and home-court advantage thanks to Johnson's big night.
• Jeff Teague eased nerves in Atlanta on Monday with a remarkable debut appearance as the starting point guard in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich, the gritty defender being counted on to contain Rose. It's understandable why Hinrich's loss would cause panic: Teague played a total of 10 minutes in the entire first-round series against Orlando. But he played a season-high 45 minutes Monday and finished with 10 points (on 5-of-11 shooting) and dished five assists with only one turnover. But perhaps most important, Teague didn't let Rose abuse him. In fact, in the first quarter he helped the Hawks' defense cut off the Bulls' pick-and-rolls that Rose feeds off and did a solid job of staying in front of the presumptive MVP, who was only 11-of-27 from the field.
• As if the Hawks' playoff run hasn't been enough of a surprise, consider how they're doing it: defense. Atlanta was an above-average defensive team during the regular season, but it wouldn't be mistaken for Boston or Chicago. Yet the Hawks clamped down on Orlando in the first round, holding the Magic to 88.7 points and 41 percent shooting. And they stayed tough against Chicago, which shot 47 percent from the field in three regular-season meetings. The Bulls were left to battle back from behind until the third quarter Monday night thanks to 29 percent shooting in the first quarter. Chicago went to the free-throw line only 16 times -- nearly nine below its season average -- while Atlanta contained its slashing guards and powerful inside game without needing to foul.
• Rose's early-game woes were so severe that the Bulls did the unthinkable without him on the floor. They improved their play. Thibodeau sat Rose for the first 6:13 of the second quarter specifically because the Bulls' reserves were turning around the first-quarter struggles that dug Chicago a 10-point deficit. Rose was the biggest part of those troubles. He missed his first seven shots and sat down without hitting a field goal, his team trailing 28-18. Surprisingly, Chicago pulled within 34-30 with 6:43 remaining in the half without Rose, who seemed to benefit from his time on the bench. He hit a driving layup less than a minute after returning and closed the game 11-of-20 from the field with nine assists after taking his timeout.
• In the closing seconds, Rose stepped on Jamal Crawford's foot while jumping out on defense and turned his left ankle. It's the same ankle that Rose sprained during the first-round series against Indiana. Rose told reporters afterward that he "should be all right," and the Bulls listed him as day to day. Game 2 is Wednesday in Chicago.
• Rose's struggles didn't cripple the Bulls only because Luol Deng had one of his most effective stretches of the season, scoring 17 points in the first half to keep the game from getting out of hand. But as much of a savior as Deng was in that half, he might have helped keep the Bulls from completing their second-half rally. Rather than stay aggressive and attack the basket with drives that Atlanta couldn't contain in the first half, Deng vanished in the second. He scored four points, took only three shots and grabbed three rebounds as the Bulls' second-leading scorer in the playoffs faded into a non-factor down the stretch.