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Bulls not so hot in Atlanta
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 3
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It was for the Bulls Wednesday in an 83-80 loss to the Atlanta Hawks a tale of two halves. Nah, trite.
It was a night when the Bulls with a 17-point halftime lead let their guard down. Their forwards and center were down as well. Bad joke.
It was a game the Bulls played Rhett Butler (predictable Gone with the Wind reference) and frankly didn’t give a damn.
That’s right, this game was so bad that it is taking the writing down with it.
“We missed some shots at the end of the game,” offered Derrick Rose with an uncharacteristically poor game with five of 21 shooting and six turnovers. “I made some careless passes that led to fast breaks for them. This game was definitely on me. Turnovers enabled them to get the momentum, and that’s on me. You have to protect the ball. But we’ll learn from it and move on to the next game. But this one tonight definitely starts with me.”
I have to agree because Rose, who ended with 12 points and 12 assists, is the major factor for this Bulls team. He has to score for the Bulls offense to operate at some efficiency. Give the Hawks credit. They did a good job shading to Rose and then anticipating his jump passes that go against conventional wisdom (leaving your feet to pass) but rarely miss the target, Yet, the Hawks were able to get into Rose’s lanes and turn several into fast breaks, which is unusual against this Bulls team.
The Hawks also did a nice job after a ridiculous 14-0 Bulls lead to start the game in bringing a double to Carlos Boozer or stunting toward him after he got off to a fast start against Jason Collins, subbing for the injured Josh Smith.
Boozer finished with 11 points, five in the first quarter as the Bulls led 28-19. Joakim Noah had 13 points and 12 rebounds, but the spacing for Boozer has been breaking down since Noah’s return with Noah seemingly reluctant to take that jump shot that had become fairly reliable. Noah did hit one of those jumpers Wednesday, but he’s mostly hesitated on that shot, which allowed Al Horford to lay back in the lane and limit options for Boozer.
Plus, the Bulls perimeter shooting went awry.
The Bulls were a bit three happy, firing off 20 threes and making seven and saw Rose and Luol Deng go cold with some fairly open looks down the stretch as the usually reliable duo combined for two of 10 shooting in the fourth quarter.
Plus, the Bulls missed eight of 21 free throws, five of 10 in the fourth quarter.
And still with 37.1 seconds left the Bulls led 80-79 after Noah split two free throws in a game the Hawks had yet to lead for one second.
Did I mentioned Horford? Yes, right.
He did give a damn, a big fat damn, and he just killed the Bulls and his former U. of Florida teammate, Noah, which Horford had done a few years back in the United Center with a 27-point beat down of Noah and the Bulls in a Hawks win. Horford plays an angry game against Noah, and was at his best ever Wednesday with a career high equaling 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Al would probably never admit it, but I think it’s personal,” Williams said. “You always want to bring it against your former (teammates), and he does it every time.”
It has seemed more personal than that and there have been some stories over the years that Horford felt disregarded on those title teams. Plus, Noah has been getting more recognition of late than Horford despite Horford being an All Star.
So it was the rare game that Noah was the center being beaten down the court by his opponent. Several times, in fact, and with the Hawks trailing by a point they decided to attack Noah and put him in the pick and roll.
I also thought the Hawks threw some changeups at the Bulls that the Bulls didn’t respond to. The Hawks played a variety of defense, occasionally switching, which they are known for, and going into a zone which seemed to bother the Bulls after that quick start. The Bulls failed to attack the zone aggressively and it seemed to give the Hawks footing in the game.
The Hawks also like to play small lineups with their athletic team and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau generally doesn’t like to match down. The Hawks took advantage with some three guard sets. Though the Bulls did match with three guards with C.J. Watson in that last sequence.
Coming out of that timeout with 37.1 seconds left, the Hawks went to Jamal Crawford against Watson with Horford coming up to set the screen. Watson got picked off with Noah coming up to help. Horford slipped the screen and thundered to the rim, slamming the ball as Deng had no chance to get over to help.
Rose inbounded to Boozer, who passed back to Rose, who ran into Horford and lost the ball.
“I think the ball hit me in my head,” said Rose. “I think I tried to take off too quick. It was just one of those games for me.”
Joe Johnson, who was having a miserable game shooting five of 20, ran in and slammed for an 83-80 Hawks lead with 20.6 seconds left as Horford exulted running back to the Atlanta huddle.
The Bulls went without a timeout, and Horford was really into this one now. He came over the Boozer screen and took Rose one on one and Rose couldn’t get by him. Rose went up to shoot a three with Horford’s hand in his face and Rose passed back to Kyle Korver. Rose got the ball back, dribbled right and shot a three that hit the front of the rim. Noah, who did a decent job in the game, got the rebound and tipped it to Boozer, who threw back out to Korver for the tying three.
Korver had a good look from the left wing just above the three point circle. But he shot an air ball caught, appropriately enough, by Horford as the game ended. Horford themn threw the ball toward the roof, screaming and pounding his chest as teammates greeted him at midcourt.
Yes, I’d say it was personal.
Maybe he doesn’t like the pony tail.
“The effort was there, but we just didn’t make the plays in the second half,” said Noah. “It’s a tough loss, but this just shows you have to play the game for 48 minutes. We have to take responsibility for not coming out with enough juice in the second half to come out with a win. Horford played great tonight. He was hitting deep shots, hustling, rebounding. He did everything. It’s always tough to lose a game when you’re up by 19 points (2:40 left in the first half), but we will bounce back, because that’s what we do.”
It will have to be a trampoline type bounce as the Bulls go into Orlando Friday and Miami Sunday for the national TV Sunday Special. The Bulls now are 41-18 (just 15-14 on the road), a game and a half behind Miami and three behind Boston. They are three up on Orlando with two more meetings. So if the Bulls fall behind the Magic, they’d likely face a first round playoff series with the Hawks, against whom they play two more games of the three this season.
And Wednesday’s game suggested it wouldn’t be an easy series, especially since it should have been a big edge for the Bulls without Smith, who is a matchup nightmare for the Bulls as a super athletic power forward. Plus, new Hawk Kirk Hinrich played despite being slowed with a calf injury. It suggests you’ll have a tough first round playoff series at four/five or three/six, which likely would mean a series against the improving Knicks.
“They did a good job on Derrick tonight,” said Thibodeau. “He just couldn’t get it going. I thought he had some shots that he normally makes. But he couldn’t put them down. When that happens he needs to help us doing some other things. We probably dribbled too much in the second half and that hurt us, too. The Hawks are a good team. But if we just could get a stop in the end we would have still won the game. But that didn’t happen. Sometimes we were outhustled, especially by Al Horford.”
Though I thought the signature play of the game was the Hawks’, and it sent that symbolic type of message that, “We’re taking this game!
“And we’re doing it by taking out your best guy!”
The Bulls had let almost all the big lead slip away, though Omer Asik was absolutely terrific with the Hawks playing small. Asik helped the Bulls hold onto the lead despite putrid fourth quarter shooting. Asik had nine rebounds and four offensive in 14 minutes.
Horford had just beaten Noah to the basket for a three point play, though Noah was out of position trying to help. But it was Rose time with the Bulls leading 74-72 with 3:27 left.
Rose dribbled down the left side and blew by Hinrich and before any of the help could react got to the basket for a 76-72 lead.
Horford got a pass underneath with Noah helping on the drive and was fouled, making one of two.
The Hawks were now playing sort of a sagging triple team against Rose with Horford helping off Noah and Marvin Williams cheating over in something of a soft zone. The Bulls shooting was off—30.6 percent in the second half—so the Hawks were daring the Bulls.
Rose pulled up and shot. He missed and the ball was tipped back out to him. Earlier in the game he’d gotten a kick out like that and exploded to the rim and dunked two handed.
Rose tried it again.
The Hawks were ready this time.
Rose flew by Hinrich and went up for what looked like a sure dunk two handed. Williams, usually a passive player, came over and went up strong, getting the ball cleanly and blocking it back to Crawford, who ran it down and scored on goaltending.
That brought the Hawks within 76-75 with 2:30 left in a turnaround that could have been the game if Rose were able to finish the dunk, which is usually automatic.
Because Korver followed with a three. So instead of a possible nine point lead, the Bulls were up four.
The Bulls stayed big, though, with Noah and Boozer while the Hawks went with three guards to spread the floor, creating some difficult matchups as Korver had to take Crawford. Crawford beat Korver and Noah and Boozer stepped up. Crawford passed to an open Williams in the right corner and Williams hit a three to get the Hawks back within one.
Rose then dribbled into a heavy trap on the left side and fired off an off balanced shot that missed. It’s been like that a bit of late as Rose is shooting 35 percent the last five games and 21 percent on threes. Tiring after the busy All Star weekend? The long season and all the demands to carry the team with injuries? Or just a bit of a slump? The games just keep coming with six in the next nine days, including playoff types like the Magic, Heat, Hornets, Hawks and Jazz. No time to relax.
Horford was fouled on the rebound and made one of two to tie the game at 79. The Bulls finally took advantage of the Hawks ganging up on Rose with Noah slipping the screen for a pass and foul. He made one of two for that 80-79 lead to set up that futile last 37.1 seconds for the Bulls.
It looked like the kind of game the Bulls could get with Smith out and Hinrich limited. Boozer took advantage of the slower Collins to start and stunned Atlanta with that 14-0 start. And even though the Bulls had periods of inactivity, Noah was active and banging the boards and they still seemed in control at halftime.
Boozer had a little dustup with Zaza Pachulia after a hard foul on Horford that didn’t amount to much. But Horford just overpowered everyone with 13 in the third quarter with everything from a three to an angry slam on his own miss when he practically threw Noah into the third row.
“He was an absolute beast tonight,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew. “He just did it on both ends. I was a little concerned in the fourth quarter. I thought he might have gotten a little winded. I was going to actually get him out of the game and give him a quick blow, but I couldn’t take him out. He was playing too well, and we were right there. He was our anchor tonight. During the timeouts, he was in the huddles cheering the guys, and just telling the guys to keep plugging. He was phenomenal tonight.”
First Keith Bogans and then Deng, who led the Bulls with 15 points, did a good job on Johnson. But Horford was relentless.
“I just knew that I needed to play harder since Josh was out,” said Horford. “I just tried to come out and be aggressive and kind of get the guys going. We had to stay positive.”
And it seems a power dunk on Noah’s head is worth 1,000 words.
The Bulls will see them in Chicago next week. These should be interesting as well. As the Hawks announced Wednesday, “Don’t forget us!”