The Chicago Bulls lost their third straight game for just the second time this season, coughing up an early double-digit second-half lead to fall 130-124 to the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. The Bulls dropped their first game of the year to the Hawks, bringing their season series to a 3-1 record.
More importantly, the loss drops Chicago to a 39-24 record, and from the second seed in the Eastern Conference to the third. The Bulls are now mere percentage points behind the Sixers, whom they’ll square off against on Monday ... and, let’s be real, if they can’t beat the Hawks, they’re not beating the Sixers. The Bulls are now just one game ahead of the 38-25 Bucks, against whom they face off tomorrow in a quick turnaround. The Hawks rose to a 30-32 record, still just 10th in the competitive East, with the victory.
It was a fairly competitive contest, featuring 13 lead changes and nine ties.
A left ankle sprain that had made Hawks All-Star Trae Young a game-time decision didn’t seem to impede him one iota tonight. He was red-hot from long range, going a sparkling 7-of-9 from behind the arc. The 6’1” fourth-year phenom finished with a game-high 39 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line, along with 13 dimes, three rebounds and a steal.
Atlanta guards Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter also enjoyed robust offensive nights, combining for 37 points with little resistance from Bulls guards not named Ayo Dosunmu. Clint Capela (12 points, 11 rebounds) and De’Andre Hunter (18 points) also had big nights for the Hawks.
The Bulls had a balanced offensive attack, with five players scoring 15 points or more, and the team’s Big Three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic all scoring 21+ points on 50% shooting or better.
Where the team was struggled was in holding onto the ball (the team coughed it up 14 times, and Atlanta scored 19 points off those turnovers), defending the Hawks’ slew of quick-footed guards (an expected weakness since Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have been out), and failing to get to the line, usually a big strength of DeRozan’s game. DeRozan, averaging 7.9 free-throw looks a night, drew just two against the Hawks. Chicago as a team got to the line just seven (!) times, compared to 28 free-throw attempts for Atlanta. The Hawks made 24.
6’4” starting power forward Javonte Green struggled to guard players big (Danilo Gallinari, getting the starting nod at power forward in the absence of John Collins) and small (Trae on switches) and reminded us that, as fun a story as his emergence this season (at age 28!) has been for the Bulls, he’s not really a reliable starter. Can 20-year-old Patrick Williams make a difference just by benefit of being a more standard modern power forward size (6’7”, 7-foot wingspan), when/if he ever comes back this year? We can only hope.
One fun wrinkle: Billy Donovan explored lineups with both 6’9” center/power forward Tristan Thompson and the 6’10” Vucevic for the first time tonight. He liked what he saw enough to even try a late-game lineup of Ayo Dosunmu, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Tristan Thompson and Nikola Vucevic. The size of Thompson did help a bit.
Though DeMar did not reach the lofty heights of his recent 10-game streak of scoring 30+ points, he did continue to impress with an array of nifty clutch pump-fakes, and helped keep the Bulls in the game late, along with Nikola Vucevic. Here’s a clutch make at the end of the third:
After Chicago took a 110-104 lead off a floating Nikola Vucevic jumper with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter, Atlanta closed the game out on a 26-12 scoring advantage through the rest of the frame. It was ... grisly. Bogdanovic and Young did most of the damage down the stretch.
Though Ayo did a respectable job against Young for much of the game, Young roasted him and then Coby White on a switch for consecutive step-back triples in the game’s final 75 seconds to effectively seal the victory:
Chicago will have an opportunity to make up for the loss right away, as they face off against the Bucks tomorrow in what you could call the “Grayson Allen Vengeance Game.” Tristan Thompson is certainly looking forward to it.