The absence of Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, who hasn’t played all season, is one thing, but when you add Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich to the equation of injured Bulls players, it’s amazing this team is still in good position going into the final stretch of the NBA season.
Nonetheless, the Bulls, now 29-18 and third in the Eastern Conference standings, hustled their way to a 93-76 win over the Atlanta Hawks (27-19) at Philips Arena on Saturday.
“We got totally outplayed tonight from start to finish,” said Atlanta coach Larry Drew following his team’s loss. “As I told our players, it didn’t matter who put on the Bulls’ uniform tonight. It wasn’t about Chicago tonight…Regardless of who showed up, I told our guys we had to bring a playoff game mentally. Because this Chicago team, minus the guys who didn’t play tonight are still going to come out and play at a high level.”
Led by forward Loul Deng’s 25 points and a balanced scoring attack by three other players – Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler – the Bulls were able to stave off a second-quarter rally by the Hawks to win by 17. What’s more, Deng, Gibson and Butler all finished with double-doubles.
Chicago took an early 24-17 lead before Josh Smith, who scored 16 first-half points – 10 in the second quarter – helped stage a rally that gave Atlanta a one-point lead, 44-43, going into the halftime break. The Hawks had come from nine points down to tie the game at 28-all by the 6:58 mark in the second behind Smith’s 8-for-14 shooting from the field.
However, Deng countered with 15 points of his own in the first half, and guard Richard Hamilton’s 11 kept Atlanta’s rally in check.
That’s when Robinson, a seven-year veteran, stepped up. The point guard scored 12 points in the third quarter by connecting on 5-for-8 from the floor, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range, to enable the Bulls to recapture the lead.
“We’ve had some bad third quarters,” said Robinson. “Tonight we wanted to come out and concentrate on what we needed to do so that wouldn’t happen.”
By 5:46 in the third, the Bulls’ lead had grown to nine again, and despite a brief exchange between a hot Al Horford and Jeff Teague, Chicago was able to close out the period by that same margin.
And while Smith struggled, going scoreless in the third and only managing three points in the fourth, Chicago was relentless on the boards. The Bulls were particularly impressive in the third where they out-rebounded Atlanta 17-10 in regaining the lead. By game’s end, the Bulls had pulled down 18 rebounds on the offensive end of the floor alone, something Coach Drew frowned upon.
“They had 18 offensive rebounds. You’re not going to win by allowing that many offensive rebounds,” Drew commented.
In the fourth quarter, Deng was once again the pain in the Hawks’ neck. The 6’9″ veteran scored 10 more points in the period and added four steals to his total. The Bulls’ lead kept growing until Robinson’s 3-pointer with just 1:37 left to play brought his team’s point advantage to 17, and added an exclamation point to the victory.
Atlanta’s Smith (19), Horford (14), Teague (16) and Kyle Korver (14) all finished in double figures in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, Robinson finished with 20, while Gibson had 19 points and 19 rebounds, and Butler added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls.