The last time the Bulls played the Hawks, they melted down in the final minutes and Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade set off a firestorm. This time around it was the Bulls making the furious comeback, and Butler was at the heart of it in a 106-104 comeback victory that has Chicago as the No. 7 seed in the East.
Butler was absolutely magnificent, taking over the game in the second half to the tune of 25 points (33 for the game on 11-of-20 shooting). He scored the last nine points of the game, including two free throws in the final seconds when he was fouled on a jumper (reminiscent of the Celtics win before the break). Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a good look at 3 to give the Bulls the win.
Butler started his takeover in the latter part of the third quarter, and Fred Hoiberg smartly kept him in to start the fourth instead of giving him his early rest. The beginning of the fourth quarter was pretty ugly, though, and it wasn’t looking too good for the Bulls midway through the fourth quarter. After going up by 10 in the third quarter, the Hawks caught fire and rushed past the Bulls to take a 10-point lead of their own. Atlanta led by nine points with about five minutes left.
But Denzel Valentine sparked a rally with two triples, with one of those coming after Dwight Howard botched an easy alley-oop. That five-point swing with about three minutes left turned the tide in the Bulls’ favor, and Butler brought them home.
In addition to Butler and Valentine, Rajon Rondo had another big game as he continues his almost mystifying (contract) push. Rondo had a season-high 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists. He did have some issues guarding Dennis Schroder (29 points) and had some laughable turnovers, but his jumper somehow continues to fall at a high rate (he’s at around 50 percent from 3 over the last month) and he’s looked way more aggressive than he did for most of the year. I dunno.
Also, Nikola Mirotic didn’t have a big game, but he went 2-of-3 from 3 and was a team-high +17. The Bulls continue to play their best basketball with him on the court.
This victory ended a seven-game losing streak against the Hawks and also extended the streak of games with double-digit 3-pointers to six. Apparently that’s the longest streak in franchise history, because why not?
This team has been utterly bizarre all season, so it only makes sense that this group sets that new record. And now with an easy schedule the rest of the way, it’d take an epic collapse to miss the playoffs. The Bulls, Heat and Pacers are all 37-39, but Chicago owns the tiebreaker and has that aforementioned easy schedule. There’s even an outside chance of getting to No. 6 if Atlanta continues to melt down.
Gar’s plan is working, guys.