The Chicago Bulls dropped back to .500 once again tonight after falling to the Atlanta Hawks on the road 115-107. Although the Hawks swept the Bulls last season, the departure of Bull-killer Al Horford gave the Bulls faithful some hope that the matchup between the two teams would be a bit more even this year. Sadly, despite great games from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, Chicago just didn’t have quite enough for a victory.
The Bulls opened the game with some hot perimeter point shooting, as Butler canned two three pointers in the first few minutes and Wade hit a pull-up three pointer shortly after. Unfortunately, the Hawks also started off sizzling from three, and Rajon Rondo had a great deal of trouble staying in front of Dennis Schröder. However, someone who didn’t have trouble playing defense was Taj Gibson, who frustrated Paul Millsap heavily before the latter left for the locker room midway through the period.
Jimmy Butler played a fantastic offensive quarter, scoring ten points in ten minutes on a little over six shots. Alas, the rest of the team couldn’t seem to follow suit—especially the bench, whom got outscored 14-2 for the quarter by that of the Hawks. Part of that differential included a mini-run by Thabo Sefolosha that saw him cross up Nikola Mirotic for a layup, steal the ball on a bad pass from Niko on the next posession for a dunk, then hit a three all within the span of a minute. The Hawks also got a buzzer beater layup prior to the clock expiring, and so the Bulls ended the first quarter down 35-27.
Somebody must have pissed off Thabo Sefolosha prior to tip-off, because he played an aggressive and nearly-flawless game as soon as he stepped onto the court. Thabo scored eighteen points in his first six minutes of action on 7-7 shooting from the field thanks to another personal mini-run to open the second. That put the bench point discrepency at 24-4 not even three minutes into the quarter, and the differential proceeded to only get worse. Were it not for continued herculean offensive performances by Wade (17 points on 7-8 shooting in 18 minutes) and Butler (24 points on 8-11 shooting in 20 minutes), the Bulls would have found themselves down thirty. Thankfully, the Hawks cooled off a bit for the final six minutes while Butler remained unstoppable on offense, and as a result the Bulls only found themselves down 68-61 entering halftime. The Hawks’ bench outscored the Bulls’ bench 33-4 in the first half, and the 68 points for Atlanta were their highest in a half this season thus far.
Coming out the break, the Hawks looked like a totally different team. They couldn’t stop fouling Bulls players, and at one point Kent Bazemore drew a technical for spiking his mouthguard in frustration. After the Hawks committed a five second violation coming out of a timeout (lol), Wade hit a jumper to give the Bulls back the lead. Meanwhile, Butler continued his offensive onslaught, adding an additional seven points to bring his total to 31 midway through the third. The Hawks and Bulls would continue to trade baskets for the rest of the quarter, but the Hawks got a bit of an edge thanks to Tim Hardaway Jr. taking advantage of a generally slow-to-react Bulls defense and being guarded by Doug McDermott. After another buzzer-beater by Malcolm Delaney, the Hawks ended the quarter up 94-88.
The fourth began with Atlanta eclipsing the century mark early and opening up an eleven point lead on Chicago. Fortunately, Taj Gibson executed a beautiful And-1 to cut the lead back to single digits that also fouled Kyle Korver out of the game. A few more Hawks turnovers later, the Bulls cut the lead to 103-101, but putrid offensively play by Bobby Portis and Rajon Rondo allowed the Hawks to respond with an 8-0 run prior to the two of them being taken out of the game. The gap proved to be too much for the Bulls to overcome in the closing minutes, and the final score ended up 115-107 in favor of the Hawks.
Where to begin with what went wrong? Much like last Friday night against the New York Knicks, Fred Hoiberg and the rest of the Bulls’ team wasted great games by Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Hoiberg curiously opted to give Portis an extended run of roughly seven minutes during the fourth quarter; which he promptly turned into zero points, a turnover, and a -9 plus/minus rating. Hoiberg also only used nine players on the first night of a back-to-back, and all of the starters except for Lopez played 34 or more minutes (Butler played 39). As for the Bulls’ bench, they capped off their disappearing act in the first half with an encore by allowing the Hawks counterparts to outscore them 54-18 for the game. Four Atlanta bench players reached double figures, including that guy named Malcolm Delaney.
The silver lining here is that Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade continue to be awesome. The two of them combined to score 64 points on 23-41 shooting (6-14 from beyond the arc), dished ten assists, and recorded eleven steals. Hopefully this one didn’t gas the Bulls too bad, because they will have an emotional game tomorrow night as Dwyane Wade makes his first return to Miami as a non-Heat player.