Bulls have shut down Hawks guards Johnson, Crawford

At one end of the locker room, Hawks All-Star guard Joe Johnson talked about essentially ditching coach Larry Drew’s share-the-ball philosophy for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference playoffs Sunday.

“Honestly, I just got to force the issue,” Johnson said after he scored 10 points during the Hawks’ 99-82 loss to the Bulls on Friday. “I am not going to succumb to the double team and give it up every time — because that’s what they want. We are playing right into their hands. I blame myself for that.”

Teammate Jamal Crawford, also the target of Bulls double teams, stood at the opposite end of the locker room and said he’s willing to pass if it helps the Hawks score.

“They’re kind of taking it out of my hands,” he said. “That’s fine. I just want to make sure that we make them pay because we have an advantage somewhere out there with two guys on me.”

The divergent views of the Hawks’ two main scorers illustrate the uneven response to Chicago’s defensive pressure. Johnson and Crawford combined to score 56 points in Game 1, 27 in Game 2 and 17 in Game 3.

Drew might have to convince Johnson it’s not a good idea to try to score on his own against the Bulls, who lead the series 2-1. Johnson wasn’t in the Hawks’ locker room when it was opened to media Saturday, but based on Johnson’s comments after Game 3, Drew could have a hard sell.

“We didn’t do anything, I thought, to get our scorers the basketball to make plays,” Johnson said. “They come with the double team, and they make us give it up. We can’t win like that.”

Johnson’s efficiency on isolation plays has declined with each game of the series, according to statistics complied by Synergy Sports Technology.

Drew said Johnson hasn’t responded well to Chicago’s aggressive physical defense, which he likened to the treatment faced by other star players.

“There are a lot of key players on teams that [defenses] play physical against, and they just combat it,” Drew said Saturday. “There are a lot of key players that get double-teamed, and they play out of double teams. A lot of playing out of double teams is not trying to beat double teams but making plays, and you have to show a willingness to give the ball up and trust your teammates.”

That’s been a problem for the Hawks, too. Johnson and Crawford can’t score, but aside from point Jeff Teague, no one else can do it consistently, either.

All-Star center Al Horford has been roughed up by Chicago’s Joakim Noah. Forward Josh Smith’s shot selection still is a problem. Marvin Williams is shooting only 37 percent from the field.

Crawford is more willing to pass out of double teams than Johnson, but he said the Hawks need other players to score when the ball swings to them.

“Guys getting double-teamed have to make the passes, but we have to finish those passes,” he said.

The Magic sent frequent double teams at Johnson in the first round, and Drew said he was good at making plays. The difference is that Orlando’s double teams were based largely on Dwight Howard’s ability to protect the paint while the Bulls are swarming Johnson with multiple quality defenders.

The Bulls, the top defensive team in the NBA in the regular season, are making everything uncomfortable for Johnson and Crawford. The Hawks have to find a way to get them on track even as the Bulls have focused their energy and strategy on making sure that doesn’t happen.

“That’s something our coaching staff has to come up with,” Williams said. “That’s why I’m glad I’m not a coach. You are talking about two big-time scorers, and they are not getting looks they are used to getting and it’s tough.”

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