Kevin C. Cox
7.5-man rotation no problem for Bulls
With no Noah, no Hinrich, no Boozer, and having played the night before, the Bulls had plenty of built-in excuses to lay an egg on Saturday night in Atlanta against a rested Hawks team. Instead it was the Hawks who put forth a pathetic mock-worthy effort as the Bulls out-worked them all night and pulled away in the 2nd half to win 93-76.
As opposed to last night's game under similar circumstances, the Bulls fully embraced going small tonight and DNP'd Nazr Mohammed in favor of a Gibson-Deng front line. It lined up fairly well against a sorta-small Atlanta roster (moreso since they were missing Zaza Pachulia) and both had monster games. Taj Gibson had a career-high 19 rebounds to go with 19 points in his 45 minute night less than 24 hours after playing the full-48 last game. Luol Deng was in an interesting back-and-forth battle with Josh Smith as they traded perimeter and interior strengths, but Deng wound up having the much better 2nd half (Smith had 3 points in that half after 16 in the first) and finished with a game-high 25.
Combined, Lu and Taj had 13 offensive rebounds, and the full team grabbed 35% of their own misses tonight, a staggering number considering how undersized they were. It spoke to amazing stamina and determination from them and to some pathetic effort from the Hawks, who not only were that poor on the boards but also routinely blew inside opportunities when they weren't hoisting up jumpers as the Bulls packed in the defense. Outside of a solid Kyle Korver performance, the Hawks were abysmal on the perimeter. Though not facing nearly the adversity the Bulls were in the injury department, the Hawks were without Lou Williams and Devin Harris from their usual guard rotation, and Jeff Teague played most of the game slowed by an injured hip. That forced them to Janerro Pargo themselves, as the often-Bull had to play 14 minutes in an NBA basketball game in 2013, and was an appropriate 0-6.
The Bulls were forced to trot out some of their own terribleness in the form of Vlad Radmanovic, who started the 2nd quarter and did not give Thibodeau any reason to try and stay to that depth of the bench, as he was a -7 in 5 minutes (Bulls started 1/9 from the field in that quarter) and his only box-score contribution was 3 fouls. As mentioned, Nazr was DNP'd and Daquean Cook was as well. Marquis Teague played only 7 minutes. Splitting this weekend was damned impressive, but I hope that the back-to-back herculean minutes by Taj and Deng (less concerned about Butler and Nate for obvious reasons) aren't going to come back to bite the Bulls later, where we'll all laugh (while crying) about an "all that matters, yo" win in February.
Make no mistake: this was a pretty ugly game to watch, especially in the first half. The Bulls barely shot better than Atlanta in this game, they just had 14 more shot attempts, coincidentally the number of Hawks turnovers. Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli were a combined 4-22. The Bulls were able to surge in the 3rd quarter behind a nice run of three-point shooting, first by Nate Robinson who had a huge quarter with 12 points and a nice all-around PG game. Then Luol Deng hit a couple in the 4th, Butler had one (and a 3-point play) as well, and the Hawks basically just gave up to a team they should've handled pretty easily. It's certainly a key when playing small to hit some 3-pointers, and after going 1-14 in Brooklyn this gave them a much better chance to win. This won't be a game I'll want to remember, the result will be looked upon fondly all season.