As if the loss itself wasn't bad enough, the Bulls got a major scare when Rose came up limping at the end of the game. Their MVP candidate stepped on Jamal Crawford's foot as he dribbled out the final seconds and was helped off by teammates and a trainer.
The Hawks went on a 15-2 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to turn a 69-65 deficit into an 80-71 lead with 10:27 remaining.
Johnson hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points during that stretch, and the Hawks hung on.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at the United Center.
Johnson was brilliant, hitting 12 of 18 shots and all five 3-point attempts. Crawford scored 22 points and Jeff Teague added 10 while starting at the point for the injured Kirk Hinrich. The Hawks shot 51.3 percent against one of the league's stingiest defenses.
As alarming as that was, though, the sight of Rose limping off sent a real shiver through Chicago. The Bulls simply can't afford to lose him if they're going to keep this run going, even though it wasn't his best night.
He scored 24 points after a slow start but was just 11 of 27 from the field.
Luol Deng scored 21 points for Chicago while Carlos Boozer added 14 points and eight rebounds despite a turf toe injury on his right foot. But it was a rough night overall for the Bulls.
Pushed by Indiana in a tough five-game opening series, they fought through a brutal first quarter to pull within one point at halftime and led by as many as six in the third quarter before this one slipped away.
Johnson started the go-ahead run with two free throws with just under a minute left in the third, and Zaza Pachulia hit two more with less than a second left in the quarter to put the Hawks ahead for good, 72-71.
Johnson then hit a 3 off a turnover by Deng to start the fourth. Teague added a floater and Crawford nailed a 3 to make it 80-71.
The night started with a strong rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Jim Cornelison, fans erupting as he belted out "land of the free and the home of the brave" in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing. They also cheered loudly when Tom Thibodeau was present the Coach of the Year trophy before the opening tip, but a slow start by the Bulls quickly killed the good vibe.
A team that catapulted to a league-best 62 wins watched as Atlanta hit 13 of 22 shots in the first quarter while grabbing a 28-18 lead. The Bulls, meanwhile, missed their first nine shots and were 6 of 21 in the quarter, with Rose missing all seven shots.
He finally connected right after he checked back into the game midway through the second, when he scooped in a left-handed layup in transition, making it 39-34.
He also hit a 3 later in the quarter, and the Bulls walked into the locker room trailing 51-50 at the half.
The Hawks scored the first nine points and took an 11-2 lead before the Bulls hit their first shot. Deng, who had converted two free throws, stopped that drought when he drove across the lane with 6:45 left and added a tip-in midway through the quarter.
Boozer had strong praise for Thibodeau. "So proud of him, well-deserved. Incredible coach. I told you guys all year long I was really impressed by his approach to the game, his preparation, the way he's been able to use us all together – different guys from different teams, different talents – and put this team together the way he has, to make us be successful in this system." … Besides having Teague start for Hinrich, the Hawks went with Marvin Williams at small forward after he came off the bench in the opening round.
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