Game Notes: Hawks at Bulls
The big payback.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
While a certain team in Miami has been garnering all of the attention for seemingly not living up to the expectations placed on them — of late, anyway — at the beginning of the season, the Chicago Bulls have “quietly” gone about their business establishing themselves as a legitimate contender in the NBA.
Yes the buzz around the team is growing, but when you have teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Magic and yes, even the Heat out there, it’s understandable that a lot of people are still reluctant to buy into the Chicago hype. But that’s fine by everyone in the Chicago locker room. Working hard and getting better are the only thing that matters to them right now. That, and avenging losses to teams that they know they should’ve beaten. Enter the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls lost a heartbreaker down in Atlanta a little over a week ago where they were up by as many as 19 points but somehow let the Hawks come back to steal a 3 point victory. Giving up a big lead and losing a game is one thing, but it’s a much harder pill to swallow when the opposing team plays with one of their best players (Josh Smith) in street clothes. Sometimes, what seems like an obvious advantage can be misleading. But you know what they say, payback is a mutha.
Atlanta has been pretty bad of late, coming into the United center having won only 3 of their last 10 games, while Chicago — who counts as 1 of Atlanta’s 3 wins in that stretch — was looking to extend its winning streak to 4 games and having to do so without Carlos Boozer who suffered an ankle injury in the Chicago’s victory over Charlotte in their last game.
The first half looked as if it was going to be a long, grind-it-out kind of game for both teams as there were 5 lead changes and 12 ties in the first 24 minutes off action.
For Atlanta in the first half, they received a huge contribution from Josh Smith (12 points, 3 rebounds) who was playing in only his third game since being out with an MCL injury, and from Jamal Crawford off the bench (11 points, 4 assists) who is always a problem for any team the Hawks face. Atlanta scored 50 points in the half on 53 percent shooting and without getting a whole lot from their All-Stars — offensively at least — Joe Johnson and Al Horford who scored just 6 points apiece. Former Bull and newly acquired PG, Kirk Hinrich, contributed 9 points for the Hawks.
For Chicago, it was a rough start for All-Star and MVP candidate Derrick Rose who scored 10 points on 2-11 shooting from the field. Giving credit where it’s due, Hinrich played excellent defense on Rose in the first half and made it tough for him to get a rhythm offensively. Luol Deng, who was a game time decision after suffering an injury to his thigh when he was kneed on a drive by the Bobcats’ Gerald Henderson in the previous game, chipped in 12 points and dished out 5 assists and continued what has been solid play for the Bulls all season.
The Bulls also received solid contribution from off the bench, outscoring Atlanta’s 22-15, but Chicago still found themselves down 50-48 at the half.
The second half would be a totally different story, especially for Chicago.
All season, but especially of late, the Bulls have been so much better in the second half of games (especially on defense) as opposed to the first, and against the Hawks, it was apparent.
Remember the aforementioned struggles of DRose? Well, that rectified itself in a hurry.
Rose exploded in the 3rd quarter, scoring 18 of his game-high 34 points on 5-9 shooting from the field, but more importantly, he was able to get to draw fouls and get to the free throw line where he was 6-6 in the quarter. He seems to have finally figured out how to draw fouls and being that he’s shooting almost 85 percent from the line this season (compared to 77 percent from last season), this newfound ability makes him that much more dangerous.
But it wasn’t just Rose’s offensive output that was impressive, the Bulls as a team absolutely locked down on defense, forcing the Hawks into 4-15 shooting from the field in the quarter and allowing only 10 points. It would be more of the same in the final quarter as Chicago continued to harass Atlanta on the defensive end and absolutely dominated them on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks 27-14 in the half and 50-28 for the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, there would be no letdown this time as Chicago came away with the 94-76 victory, extending their winning streak to 5 games (their 10th straight at home) and extending Atlanta’s losing streak to 4 games.
Like I said… Payback is a mutha.