by Bryan Crawford
It’s that time of the season where guys start getting nicked up and banged up and have to play through injuries. Coaches have to be creative in their rotations and buy themselves some time until their team is at full strength again. That’s exactly the situation Vinny Del Negro and the Chicago Bulls are facing right now. Unfortunately for them, it’s at a time in the season when they can’t afford to have anybody out, especially not their key guys. Last night’s game against Atlanta was living proof. The hope Monday night with the Bulls not being at full strength due to injuries and with a day of rest in between was the Hawks—coming off a tough OT victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday—would have tired legs.
No such luck.
Luol Deng would be a game time decision for the Bulls as he was nursing a knee injury sustained in last Friday’s overtime victory against the Portland Trailblazers. Deng did take the court for pregame shootaround, but a determination wouldn’t be made on his availability until after he completed his session. Said Del Negro, “We’ll see how it loosens up when he comes in… If he can’t play, he won’t play.” It was pretty much that cut and dry. No bringing him off the bench or anything. If he can’t go, then he won’t go.
Rookie F James Johnson would get his first career NBA start in place of Luol. His minutes have been noticeably increasing of late and Del Negro commented Friday that he’d been practicing a lot better and his weight was down.
As for Joakim Noah, he came to the United Center wearing a walking boot on his right foot. He’s been shelved indefinitely until the team physicians and trainers can get his plantar fasciitis under control. When asked if he had a timetable for Noah’s return, Del Negro said, “It could be a week, it could be a month, I just don’t know. Plantar fasciitis is very difficult to monitor in terms of [a timetable]. I don’t think it’s going to go away until he gets significant rest. Its poor timing, but you have to manage it as best you can… It’s a big loss right now, but other guys have to step up.”
The Atlanta Hawks won this game in the first 4:30. That’s when Mike Bibby, trying to intercept an outlet pass from Brad Miller to Derrick Rose, collided with Rose sending him crumbling to the floor in pain clutching his right Knee. Collectively, everyone in the United Center held their breaths as Rose just lay on the floor for what seemed like an eternity. He would finally get up and walk off the court under his own power and made his way to the bench before limping back to the locker room.
Rose had a similar incident in Indiana with Earl Watson Saturday night, only it was his left knee and it happened in the fourth quarter when the game was almost over and the Bulls had no shot at winning. The energy in the arena at the beginning of the game got sucked out when Rose went down this time, especially when it took him so long to get up. And as any good team would, Atlanta capitalized as they showed no mercy.
JSmoove was a beast, dropping 9 points on the head of Brad Miller. Joe Johnson is starting to get into a groove and puts up 6 points. Jamal Crawford comes in and scores 5 points in less than five minutes. The Hawks were getting buckets from everybody, including Al Horford who also controlled the glass with 6 rebounds. The Bulls as a team grabbed 8 rebounds in the first quarter.
It’s gonna be a long night.
Hawks lead the Bulls 34-23 after one.
Derrick Rose made his way back to the Bulls bench about three minutes into the quarter. As he walked out of the tunnel toward the bench, those in the crowd who noticed started to cheer and the whole city exhaled. He would sit out a couple more minutes before Del Negro subbed him in for Jannero Pargo and the United Center came back to life.
It wasn’t the greatest quarter of basketball shooting wise for either team. Atlanta shot 6-21 from the field and Chicago 9-23. Still, the Bulls would find themselves down by as many as 18 points due to them being unable to deal with Atlanta’s length or Josh Smith’s rebounding prowess. He had 6 boards in the quarter, picking up where Al Horford left off in the first. Also, Coach Mike Woodson played everybody on his squad except for Jason Collins. He ran different guys at the Bulls which caused problems as Vinny Del Negro only went three deep into his bench.
Things started to get a little chippy when Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams would be assessed double technicals for jawing at each other, but “Kurt” was probably upset because he laid an egg in the quarter and Marvin was in his ear about it. I don’t know.
At halftime, Hawks lead 59-43
The Bulls made a run and managed to cut the Hawks 16 point lead at the beginning of the quarter, down to 7 points by the end of it. Atlanta shot miserably from the field (5-22) and the Bulls capitalized. Led mainly by Derrick Rose (10 points in the quarter) who showed no ill effects from his knee injury, even throwing down a nasty two-handed baseline jam, the team managed to claw and scratch their way back into the game. NBA basketball is a game of runs and the Bulls made theirs in the third.
But they couldn’t get any stops and any rebounds (Atlanta was outrebounding the Bulls 48-34) when they needed them most and JSmoove was a big reason why. He was having an outstanding night and some of his rebounds were just as nasty as his dunks as he just skied over the Bulls and snatched rebound after rebound away. By the end of the quarter he’d already logged 15 points and 15 rebounds and Chicago had no answer for him.
Atlanta leads 75-68 at the end of the third.
If you ever wanted a prime example of how to properly closeout an opponent in an NBA basketball game, then this was the quarter to watch. The Hawks totally dominated the Bulls in the final quarter. Led by Jamal Crawford who led the team in scoring with 21 points off the bench and who’d been killing Chicago all night, Atlanta found their shooting stroke and just like in the first quarter, they couldn’t miss shooting 18-26 from the field and outscoring the Bulls 41-24 in the quarter.
They also just destroyed Chicago on the glass outrebounding them 15-3 in the fourth. It was almost flagrant what they were doing on the glass. What was a 7 point lead at the start of the quarter ballooned to as many as 26 points—courtesy of a nasty Mario West baseline jam—by the end of it.
Game Over. Hawks win 116-92.
I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad it was until the unofficial stats were distributed after the game. But when I saw it, I wasn’t surprised. Atlanta had outrebounded Chicago 63-37 in the game. I’ve watched a lot of basketball in my lifetime and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a wide rebounding margin in an NBA game. I’m sure there has been, I’ve just never seen it.
Still, Mike Woodson showed a lot of class towards his opponents in his postgame comments, “You’ve got to give Chicago some credit. They were a little short handed tonight but they kept pushing us.”
He also had high praise for his young, high-flying forward Josh Smith as well. “Smoove was tremendous again tonight. Coming off back-to-back games and the energy that he brought to the table tonight was unbelievable. I think it really got everybody going right from the start and it carried over right until the end.”
Said Josh Smith on the way the Hawks rebounded the ball, “Due to Joakim Noah not playing and the trade with Tyrus Thomas who was also a good rebounder, especially Luol Deng too, we knew that they had pretty much one rebounder out there in Taj Gibson. So we were trying to make a conscious effort to give ourselves second and third chance opportunities to score.”
And that they did.
Derrick Rose is fine by the way, “just a little sore” as he put it after the game.
Shoutout to “No. 1 Hawks Fan” Lang Whitaker for not directly talking trash to me via Twitter as my beloved Bulls got crushed last night because he certainly could have. Still, I’m not a hater and in recognition of his Hawks beating my Bulls again, I’ll say it just like I did last time…. ATL, shawty.