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Hawks deliver early knockout punch to Bulls

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Don’t be fooled by the final score

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Playing for the first time since 2008 without a Chicago Bulls fan in the Oval Office, the Bulls turned in one of their worst efforts of the season in an ugly 102-93 loss to Atlanta. The Hawks brought more energy and a better gameplan from the opening tip and held off a fierce fourth comeback from the Bulls’ bench. Dennis Schröder and Paul Millsap sliced up the Bulls in a game that only almost got interesting in the final moments.

With Atlanta leading 87-57 after three quarters, Fred Hoiberg cleared the bench early with tomorrow’s home game against Sacramento in mind. Atlanta’s starters sat the entire quarter while a Bulls bench group of Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, and Bobby Portis led a furious run. Mike Budenholzer was forced to bring his starters back in when the Bulls cut it to five with a minute left, but Hoiberg stuck with the bench group. It was a longshot no matter what, but a fresh Jimmy Butler would’ve helped.

Fred Hoiberg is now 0-6 against Atlanta as a head coach, and the games have not been particularly competitive. Budenholzer, 2014-15’s Coach of the Year, has consistently gotten the better of him, culminating in tonight’s embarrassing first three quarters. The Bulls were completely out of sorts on both ends of the floor, with Atlanta clearly coming prepared to prey on their weaknesses.

From the tip, the Bulls yielded a stream of layups and corner threes in response to Atlanta’s crisp passing and screening. The Hawks converted an amazing 67.6 percent of their shots in the first half, knocking down 8/12 threes to notch 65 points. Over and over again, the Hawks patiently went through their actions until the Bulls lost an open shooter or cutter.

Hoiberg went to Zipser in the second quarter, presumably to jumpstart the rotation. The Hawks responded by letting All-Star Paul Millsap go to work on the overmatched rookie. He tallied up 14 points and nine rebounds to go with a nearly perfect shooting night: 4/5 from the field, 2/2 from three, and 4/4 from the line.

Millsap’s pick-and-roll partner, Schröder, was Atlanta’s catalyst for poking holes in Chicago’s loose defense. He burned the Bulls’ defenders with ease, leading the Hawks to 20 points in the paint in the first quarter alone. In just 27 minutes, he drilled 11/14 shots en route to 25 points and six assists.

On the other end, the Bulls doomed their night early with a plethora of pathetic turnovers. They coughed it up eight times in the opening quarter and scored a season-low 13 points to Atlanta’s 35. The Bulls turned it over 24 times on the night, an amount that’s quite difficult to win with. By the time Jimmy got cooking to rack up 17 first half points, the game was sorely out of reach. He finished with 19 and three assists in only 29 minutes, but failed to grab a rebound for the first time all season.

Most disturbing for the Bulls is the fact that the roster is finally back at full strength after a number of minor injuries and ailments. No excuses can be made that a star was missing or the rotation was upset by another key player’s absence. 13 different Bulls appeared in the game, and none of the starters were effective. They’re now 21-23 and an ugly 8-14 on the road; it feels more clear than ever that change is necessary, and a lot of it.