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Bulls ground Hawks down stretch in 107-103 victory
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 26
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Sometimes basketball can be like poetry, its interconnected movements evoking a dramatic and creative art.
Often it is not, like in the last few minutes Tuesday of the Bulls’ 107-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Let me count the ways to the depths, breath and heights of old and new griefs which enabled the Bulls to salvage the win, their sixth in the last seven to move to 30-26.
After Atlanta had taken a 103-101 lead on a DeMarre Carroll step back three-pointer from 26 feet with 1:06 left, he fouled a leaning Kirk Hinrich forcing up a three with a second left on the shot clock. Oh, how the Bulls then loved Carroll.
“We feel like we kind of stole it,” said Hinrich, who then made all three free throws — six in the last 40.8 seconds as the Bulls overall hit 25 of 29 — for a 104-103 lead with under a minute left.
Mike Scott then missed a quick three, the only kind the Hawks prefer. But the Hawks got a back tap for an offensive rebound as Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer came running just about into the play to get a timeout. This you rarely see even from Tom Thibodeau. Budenholzer shouldn’t have wasted his time as the Hawks would not score again. Except after timeouts called by the coach as Scott’s three actually went in as the timeout overruled it. That’s a passion, one might say, put to ill use by Budenholzer.
Coming out of that timeout, the Hawks had Jeff Teague, who led Atlanta with 26 points, back down Hinrich, who slapped the ball away from Teague for a turnover. The Hawks with 20.1 seconds left pressured the inbounds pass from Mike Dunleavy after the Bulls timeout. You know what’s coming. Turnover! Joakim Noah couldn’t get to the pass as the Kyle Korver recovered with Atlanta still trailing by one point.
Be still by beating and racing tell tale heart, whose blood ran as cold as the Hawks late game shooting and decision making.
For Teague running baseline with Tony Snell chasing him stepped out of bounds as freely and purely as anyone might if they were trying to lose the game. The Bulls certainly could love thee on that play.
Chicago’s heart continued to beat.
The Hawks then had to foul, Hinrich making both with Atlanta now trailing 106-103 with 11 seconds left. The Hawks then inbounded to Scott who, as he went up for a three, had the ball stripped away by Noah for a turnover. The Hawks insisted Scott was fouled, which would have been three free throws. But it was all quiet, like a death or the end of the game, as Hinrich added a clinching free throw.
“Kirk was huge,” said Noah, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. “He hit big free throws and he had a steal. He brings that energy on the defensive end and makes sure that everybody is in the right spot on the offensive end. He’s playing really confident and good basketball for us and that’s huge. We’re just trying to find a way. (Atlanta) really wanted that game today, and we really wanted that game today. It wasn’t pretty at times, but I’m just happy to come out with the win.”
And that was as good a summary as any as the Bulls were without injured Jimmy Butler in addition to their usual assortment of missing. The Hawks in addition to being without Al Horford all season were without injured Paul Millsap. Both teams effectively used seven players with Nazr Mohammed getting four minutes and two Hawks reserves getting two minutes each.
Dunleavy, who led the Bulls with 22 points while adding eight rebounds and four assists, played all but nine seconds.
“I appreciate Thibs giving me that nine-second breather at the end of the half,” Dunleavy offered dryly.
Indeed, this was one better suited to laconic humor than earthy beauty.
At least the conclusion as the Bulls could only thank the Hawks in any number of ways as the Bulls seemed outplayed from sun to candle light.
Teague broke them down constantly off the dribble while neither Hinrich, at least until the end, or D.J. Augustin could retaliate as they combined to shoot five of 26. Call that an evil shooting eye. Despite a towering advantage in size with Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic out along with Tree Rollins and Kevin Willis, the Bulls still only outrebounded the Hawks 48-42 while Elton Brand, who did not appear to jump once, was the game’s leading rebounder with 13.
“Doing whatever is necessary to scratch out a win is what’s important, and that’s what we have to do,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Hawks also made 14 three pointers, had 18 fast break points, saw Korver hit three three-pointers in the first three minutes as the Bulls apparently didn’t know he was about to make one for the 125th straight game and faced a 26-12 deficit about 10 minutes into the game.
“(The Hawks) are hard to guard,” said Thibodeau. “With the way they shoot the three, I thought our big guys did a really good job switching. They made some shots over them, but they defended well. Some of the threes were scramble threes, and we have to do a better job covering those. We dodged a bullet with the start of the game, and that’s something we have to focus on. They are fast. Getting ready for the speed and intensity of the game is important. I thought we were slow.”
It seemed slow on figuring out what to do.
That’s because the Hawks quickly got the Bulls into Atlanta’s kind of game and the Hawks kind of pace.
Without any of their top interior players, the chances for the sliding Hawks, now 26-30 and hanging onto the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, were to speed up the game and get the Bulls into a shooting contest. The Bulls seemed only too curiously to oblige, though their attempts to go inside early were unavailing. So the Bulls began to shoot it out, and they don’t succeed in many of those. They were fortunate to trail just 30-20 after one as Teague gave them fits, even getting all the way to the rim once from the perimeter and dunking, which you rarely see against the Bulls defense.
Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple, is good at finding mismatches and exploiting them. It was San Antonio-esque, in a way, as the Hawks started Teague, Shelvin Mack, Korver, Carroll and Brand. So the Bulls weren’t about to complain about injuries, as if Thibodeau ever would, anyway.
The Hawks put Carlos Boozer, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds in just 28 minutes, in a lot of pick and roll. But they also took advantage of Snell and Augustin off the dribble, scrambling the Bulls defense. Noah and Taj Gibson were having trouble guarding everyone.
The Bulls in the second quarter slowed down and got the ball inside more while also doing a better job closing on shooters. Thus the Bulls got them off the three point line to step in or that hand up, which does reduce shooting percentages.
The Bulls started the second quarter with a Dunleavy three. It was a 19-7 beginning to take the lead. And then with Noah banging the boards and continuing to run the court, the Bulls still led 54-51 at halftime despite a late Teague three. Indicative of Noah’s effect even when he wasn’t in the box score was a runout after a Scott miss that had the Hawks’ defenders hustling back to catch Noah. As they did, it opened a lane for Augustin to go all the way for a layup because the defenders had their backs turned chasing Noah. Later in the quarter, Noah held the ball on top until Boozer was able to get position and Noah lobbed over the top. Boozer was fouled, so nothing in the box score for Noah, though he made the play. All seven Bulls playing regular minutes were in double figures with Taj Gibson and Hinrich adding 14.
“We just had to battle the whole game,” said Dunleavy.
Augustin continued in his slump after shooting zero for 10 against Miami. But he led with six assists, had two steals and the shot of the game, a 50 footer at the end of the third quarter for an 80-75 Bulls lead.
That was the Bulls highlight of the quarter along with a Noah rebound in which he took off full court and then threw a bounce pass on the run for a Snell dunk.
Happy birthday to you, dear Jo, happy birthday to you.
The Hawks continued to double everything inside to try to counter the Bulls size, though the poor perimeter shooting helped. The Bulls were also a bit slow to recognize and move the ball to force the Atlanta defense to shift. The Hawks continued to push the ball and shoot fast, getting the Bulls into a game in which both teams scored more than 100 points for just the fifth time this season for the Bulls.
Atlanta seemed to get control of the game to start the fourth quarter, taking an 85-84 lead four minutes in on a Lou Williams three. But Noah got on the boards for a tip and found Dunleavy for a three. Thibodeau had to go back to Snell in the fourth, which he rarely does, as Augustin continued to miss. Hinrich made a vital three with 5:48 left for a 94-90 Bulls lead. But Teague again with the rallying cry to “Remember my brother,” scored three straight times on drives.
“He was a tough cover,” agreed Noah. “I was on skates more than a few times (switching). That’s the problem with a lot of stretch fours. We tried to switch the pick-and-roll and Teague did a good job taking advantage.”
But Noah did as well. First directing the offense with a sidearm inside pass to Gibson for free throws and then a rebound score of an Augustin miss helped the Bulls match baskets and still remain ahead 99-98 with 1:41 left when Carroll scored on another runout. Dunleavy came out of a timeout with a nice move over a double screen for a layup. But Carroll hit that unlikely step back three for what would be the last Atlanta lead — and last score — at 103-101 with 1:06 left.
Then it was to both teams to count the ways in this one who had the smiles and who had the tears.