The Chicago Bulls winning streak was snapped at six Saturday afternoon losing to the Atlanta Hawks 120-105. With a hot start from Hawks center Al Horford combined with the team's Spurs-ian offense, and stout defense, it set the tone early. Though Chicago made a great push in the third quarter, the offensive movement and attention to details defensively we'd seen the past nine or so games, just wasn't there.
Atlanta jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game, their energy and sense of urgency was palpable from the get-go. The Hawks started off 5-6 from the field and were whipping the ball around, putting the Bulls defense on its heels early on. Chicago just flat out couldn't keep up with the ball movement with which Atlanta was executing. On the opposite end, Chicago struggled to find any sort of rhythm, the flow and side-to-side ball movement from recent contests was nowhere to be found. Credit to the Hawks coaching staff though for their game plan, they sent early doubles to Jimmy Butler when he received the ball in the post, and shut down Rose's drives as he went middle.
But the most concerning aspect of the Bulls start was what had plagued them in the early part of this season, a lack of energy and intensity. In watching the opening quarter, Chicago seemed to be in a lull, with guys going through the motions on both ends. Atlanta climbed out to a 30-19 lead to end the first quarter with the help of Horford's 11 points on 5-7 shooting. The Hawks as a team shot 13-24 from the field, 3-5 from deep, with 16 points in the paint. On the other end, even though Nikola Mirotic had a strong start with 14 points, the Bulls shot 7-20 from the field with five first quarter turnovers.
As the second quarter proceeded not much changed from the Bulls end as the lead for the Hawks stretched all the way up to 19 at one point. Chicago had immense trouble in defending Atlanta's offensive action, Rose for most of the game struggled defending the Hawks point guards in the pick-and-roll. And speaking of the PnR, my God the Bulls were/are atrocious defending this action, more so the bigs (stares at Pau Gasol). But it wasn't just that aspect where the Bulls had a hard time defending, their overall rotations were poor throughout the game as they were constantly scrambling to catch up to the Hawks offense.
The Bulls did managed to climb back into the game, getting the deficit down to 10 under the three minute mark. However, a three in transition from Kyle Korver (miss you, buddy), followed by an offensive rebound and put-back from Horford increased the lead back to 15. Atlanta would head into the half with a 64-51 lead, shooting 56.2% from the field, 58.3% from long range. More impressively, they racked up 18 assists to only seven turnovers. Chicago would shoot 46.2% from the field and 30.8% from deep, while only mustering eight assists to 11 turnovers.
Chicago would start the second half on a 9-2 run after a Butler layup, five points from Niko and a Gasol layup to get back within six. That would be short-lived as the Hawks responded with their very own 9-2 run to go back up 13. But Rose and Butler would take over for the Bulls, playing the entire quarter. With the pair attacking seemingly every time down the floor and getting to the free throw line (Rose tied a season high eight attempts), Chicago managed to get the Hawks lead down to three at the 4:30 mark. The Bulls proceed to go on a 10-2 which brought them to only down two, before a Dennis Shroeder three would pull the Hawks away once more. Atlanta would enter the final frame up 89-83.
The Hawks would put the final nail in the coffin to start the fourth quarter, as they ran off a quick 11-2 run to push the lead to 15. For the game, Atlanta pummeled the Bulls in the paint and in bench points, outscoring them by roughly 20 points in each category. Atlanta shot 52.1% and 41.7% for the game, with 33 assists(!) and 15 turnovers. Chicago would win the rebounding battle, but shot 43.4%, 38.9% as compared to Atlanta, compiling 21 turnovers to only 16 assists.
Individually, Niko had a strong performance this afternoon, with 24 points on 8-17, 5-9 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds. Butler rebounded from a poor first half to finish with 27 points on 8-17 shooting, 10-12 from the line and eight boards. As for Rose, he continued to be aggressive driving to the basket, and probably should've been to the line more than the eight times he did go. Finishing with 17 points on 5-15 shooting, Rose also turned the ball over six times. Pau Gasol had arguably his worst game of the year, being a total non-factor on both ends as he had 10 points on 4-10 shooting with only seven boards. He look every bit of 35 years old this afternoon.
There was also an update on Mike Dunleavy today, head coach Fred Hoiberg saying he would be out for at least another month. It's likely we won't be seeing MDJ until after the All Star Weekend festivities.
The world isn't ending after today's game, these type of contests will happen throughout the course of a season. How the Bulls bounce back Monday night against a struggling Washington Wizards team, is more important.