By Donnell Suggs (Special to the Daily World)
Coming off of an impressive overtime win at Charlotte on Jan. 6, the Atlanta Hawks started their Jan. 7 matchup at home against Chicago in a defensive mood, defeating the Bulls 109-94.
From the opening tip-off, the Hawks forced the Bulls into turning the ball over, leading to easy baskets on the other end. The Hawks started with a 12-1 run, with steals by Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith leading to three consecutive Hawks baskets.
Smith was the catalyst, hitting four of his first six shots. Two Vladimir Radmanovic 3-pointers extended the early Hawks lead to 15 points, 33-18, at the end of the first quarter.
Following a much needed timeout, the Bulls cut the lead to seven points before the Hawks defense continued it’s stingy ways, holding the Bulls scoreless in the last two minutes of the half . Joe Johnson’s drive just before the buzzer made the halftime score 63-45.
Radmanovic, playing for the injured Marvin Williams, also hit 4-of-4 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half, as he and Josh Smith both had 14 points by intermission.
Williams suffered a sprained left ankle in the first quarter, and is listed as day-to-day.
Turnovers were the determining stat in the game, as the Hawks came away with 16 steals, with Smith and Teague having five apiece. The Bulls committed 20 turnovers in all.
Smith was also impressive in the second half, hitting 3-for-3 from the field in the fourth after scoring five points in the third. Radmanovic, the 6-10 forward from Serbia, also hit another 3-pointer in the third quarter to bring the Hawks to 9-for-12 as a team from beyond the arc.
But it was Smith that was the driving force behind the Hawks’ effort, dominating the game on both defensive and offensive ends, and scoring 25 points to go along with five rebounds, six blocks, five assists and four steals.
“We had to get off to a good start energy wise,” Smith said following the game.
“We just took it to them tonight,” said Atlanta coach Larry Drew. “Our guys showed great [defensive] energy from the beginning of the game. We were locked in defensively.”
Radmanovic finished 17 points, while Joe Johnson also added 17 despite sitting out the fourth quarter.
The Hawks held the Bulls to 44 percent shooting on the night, while garnering a season-high 32 assists.
John Lucas led the Bulls with 16 points. Chicago point guard and reigning league MVP, Derrick Rose, had a quiet night scoring only eight points the entire game, 13 points below his average per game.