Bulls 90, Hawks 79: Huge first quarter run and enough defense keep Bulls from another stinker

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Bulls' 90-79 win over the Hawks on Monday was a bit of dominance mixed with a bit of a stinker. Leading by as much as 21, pulling the starters from a game where Atlanta never really had a chance was nixed by the Bulls being brick-tastic and flat to recover on defense in the third quarter, seeing their lead shorten to five.

The Bulls responded to an ugly start to the game, where they found themselves down 11-6, with a 29-6 run over the final eight minutes of the first quarter. They cruised through to halftime and stayed level early in the third, looking like the starters would get a fourth quarter to rest. But the Bulls bricked 13-of-19 shots and turned the ball over four times, while Jannero Pargo knocked down three 3s and the Bulls failed to recover in transition.

In the halfcourt, though, the Bulls prevented the Hawks from getting just about anything going. On the other end, the Bulls didn't shoot well, but the ol' reliable mulligan game was there. The Bulls scored 18 second chance points on 15 offensive boards and nailed 8-of-20 3s (40%) to make up for an awful day of shooting from the field (38.6%).

Derrick Rose (23 points on 8-for-18, 2-for-4 on 3s, six assists, four rebounds, four turnovers in 34:54) was explosive in his first game in about a week-and-a-half; and he wasn't strapped to a gurney. The first step beat Jeff Teague without a problem and the lift made Zaza Pachulia hack away.

The story was overall great defense. The Hawks never really were able to penetrate well. Josh Smith (17 points on 7-for-21) made great move on the handful of occasions he was able to establish position inside, but never got established as an easy button for rough possessions, even with Carlos Boozer checking him while Joakim Noah was anchoring the paint. As the Bulls easily got to the paint, Smith was a strong attacker with three blocks, making it difficult to convert (36 points in the paint on 18-for-44, 40.9%). Unfortunately for Atlanta, only Smith and Pachulia were grabbing rebounds (19 of the team's 41) and the perimeter defenders couldn't recover after collapsing to close out on shooters.

  • Bulls had five double-figure scorers. Rose, Boozer (16 on 7-for-13), Luol Deng (10 on 4-for-15, 2-for-6 on 3s), Ronnie Brewer (13 on 4-for-9), and John Lucas III (10 on 3-for-8, 2-for-3 on 3s) all did it in different ways. Rose was Rose, dominating for 16 in the first half, being superagressive most of the game. Boozer found space in the mid-range, hit those jumpers, and made a couple of moves in the post. Deng had seven in the first quarter, but was other wise a bit of a brick-tastic mess. Brewer was bailing out the Bulls' sloppy possessions late in shot clocks and Lucas found ways to create off the ball, moving through space largely as a secondary ball handler.
  • Deng and Brewer's defense killed the Hawks' hope. They combined for three steals, swattedballs out of bounds to cut Atlanta's shot clocks, consistently shut down passing lanes for Joe Johnson (12 points on 5-for-11) to get the ball, let alone score. This made Boozer's job a lot easier, as Smith was forced out to the perimeter to help add a passing lane.
  • Noah's hustle was a progressive push. His game-high 16 rebounds (five offensive) were mostly out-jumping lazy positioning by Hawks bigs. But his outlet and inside-out passing made scoring a bit easier for the Bulls.
  • Taj Gibson and Mike James scored run-killing buckets off the bench. When the Hawks surged back into the game, Gibson's offensive rebounding (three offensive, six total) and battling through space gave him six hard-fought points and James knocked down a crucial three to create distance from Atlanta's comeback as part of his seven. More important, James at the helm of the pick n' roll in C.J. Watson 's absence kept the offense flowing when Rose rested.
  • Rose still didn't have to play too much. There were long shifts, but also long rests. He didn't look any more uncomfortable than any other NBA player about seven weeks into this condensed season looks. At times, he simply looked like his typical Slinky self. There wasn't a slower step to compensate for pain. So, if there were 'too soon' worries, they ought to be somewhat relieved.
  • The Hawks bricked 11-of-21 free throws. Wait, what?!?
  • "The Bulls have not lost two regular season games in a row since Feb. 5-7 of last season," Kent McDill noted after the game. "They have won after each of their last 12 regular season losses."
  • The Heat's (25-7) six-game win streak still keeps them a half-game over the Bulls (26-8) in the East. Though, the Bulls are one-up in the win column, they're also one down in the loss column. Miami hosts the Kings (10-21) on Tuesday and Knicks (16-16) on Thursday before All-Star Weekend. The Bulls only host the Bucks (13-18) on Wednesday before the break.

Stats via NBA.com [.pdf].

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