A tale of 2 halves, er...3 quarters and 1 other quarter. The Bulls were at one time down 19 points in the second half, but behind a 34-18 4th quarter improbably pulled out a victory. Now, 'winning games' is kinda just what the Bulls do, but lets get cliches out of our eyes: at the very end it took some missed free throws from Atlanta, and a tremendous play-call from Tom Thibodeau, eschewing convention by not only using Derrick Rose as a decoy, but inserting in Joakim Noah after a quarter on the bench just to make the baseline pass to Deng for a layup with under 4 seconds left.
Overall, there was both the thrill of seeing the Bulls comeback led by Derrick Rose, Omer Asik, and Luol Deng, but also the drudgery of seeing the entire first half. The Bulls shot under 25% and scored only 26 points, but fortunately the Hawks were not much better, keeping it from being a blowout. And it rarely looked to be the Bulls defense that was doing in Atlanta as much as them settling for shots, perhaps a repercussion of their game the night before in Miami. But as tired as Atlanta may have been, the Bulls looked worse all around.
Asik was the catalyst throughout the comeback, standing tall under the basket (even if the referees didn't see it that way sometimes) and corralling every rebound. He was able to start the fast break off of Atlanta misses which reignited the formerly putrid Bulls offense. The Hawks have an athletic front line that was able to sometimes exploit Asik on lob plays, but outside of that Omer dominated. And Rose was, of course, the one to finish on the other end. Closing the deficit behind three huge 3-pointers, and then culminating his night on a spectacular go-ahead shot with under 10 seconds left, driving right by Jeff Teague and shooting over the leaping Josh Smith (who can get fairly high). Luol Deng also had some critical buckets, shared Asik's spirit in fighting for loose balls, and was once again an ironman alongside Rose (both right near 44 minutes tonight).
The Bulls may drop dead from fatigue halfway through tomorrow contest in Detroit, but then again tonight proved why they feel they can win that one too and every other game: they never give up, and know they can out-defend and out-work when necessary.
But this game also showed some continuing flaws, some that are pretty major. What's been obscured a bit in the Bulls success running this season is how they're still struggling when they can't run. Tonight the Hawks used a similar formula to slow down the Bulls as they did to beat Miami the night before, with a zone defense and limiting their own turnovers, and it effected the Bulls just as much as it did the Heat. Especially without CJ Watson and Rip Hamilton (dressed, didn't play), the Bulls lack shotmakers. Ronnie Brewer started but his early season streak of hot shooting went down with a thud with a 2-8 performance. The entire team was 4-17 from three tonight (and no: Derrick's 3 makes don't count extra after a 'clutchness factor'). Kyle Korver was part of the comeback unit, but missed a few wide open looks and that was after going his first 14 minutes without even attempting a shot.
The Bulls relied a lot initially on long 2-point attempts and though they deserve credit for driving more when the bricklaying began, that ended up in being stripped or firing off bad passes, even on the 'Rose, do something' plays. It just didn't look good at all until the Bulls could get out and run, and that's an option that will always be there.
Another major concern that was exacerbated by tonight's performance is the starting frontcourt, who sat for the entire comeback. Boozer was abysmal, and it's not so much his misses from 18-feet as it is his reliance on that shot in the first place. And Noah looked sloppy and uncoordinated around the basket, and found himself in early foul trouble again. On the bright side, that allowed Asik his time to shine and spark the Bulls comeback. But Noah and Boozer are two players the Bulls need to not only play better than this, but much better, for the Bulls to advance deep in the playoffs and over the Heat. Now, every contender, even Miami, has flaws. And It's always reassuring to see the Bulls depth and fighting spirit in an exciting comeback like this, with that special feeling of having the reigning MVP at the ready to close out games. But the Bulls other top-level talent needs to play to a premium level, and until proven otherwise it's a story that Noah and Boozer can't seem to get to that point together.