The Chicago Bulls are a lot of things, but a great offensive team isn’t one of them. However, the fast pace the Atlanta Hawks forced them into didn’t throw them out of rhythm and through some solid defense in the fourth quarter and another great game from Joakim Noah, they pulled off a 107-103 win.
Mike Dunleavy made a big layup to give the Bulls a 101-100 lead in the final seconds (finished with 22 points) but that was almost cancelled by their turnover with 22 seconds left in the game, with the Bulls still hanging on to a one point lead. Jeff Teague tried to go to the baseline, but he over-committed to running under the basket and was nudged to step out of bounds, as the Hawks lost what turned out to be their final chance of winning the game.
The Bulls are still without Jimmy Butler, which really helped the Hawks and their perimeter shooting, finishing with 14-of-33 from beyond the arc. Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and others found it very difficult to miss. However, the turnovers by the Hawks whenever the Bulls turned up the pressure defensively (16 overall, four to Teague) cost them, allowing 20 points off of them.
Chicago did a great job in crashing the boards, as usual. They had 15 offensive rebounds, with Taj Gibson (14 points, 8 rebounds), Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Mike Dunleavy making the most of a Hawks team that’s missing both Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
When it comes down to a play or two that decide a game, maybe it was D.J. Augustin hitting a three pointer to end the third quarter from beyond half court. The Bulls were 77-75 in the lead with 2.3 seconds left, but his heave just might have been the shot that was enough to win the game. However, hanging on to singular moments is never wise, and there’s a bit more to it that that.
The Bulls’ point guards, Hinrich and Augustin, combined to shoot an awful 5-of-26 from the field. Without them the Bulls were an incredible 61.5% on the night, as Carlos Boozer also had a strong offensive performance with 17 points and finishing with a double double (11 rebounds). The team’s best passers are Dunleavy and Noah, and Chicago do look better when the two of them have the ball – Noah in the low post or in the high post, while Dunleavy does a better job than both point guards when it comes to decision making at the top of the key.
Chicago are quite the piece of work. No Derrick Rose, trading away Luol Deng from pretty much nothing (coaches and players don’t care about tax and cap issues), and yet they’re been playing better. Their offensive system has improved as Joakim Noah progressed. Like Thibodeau has been saying all season, the time Noah missed early on took away from his offense, but he was good enough to catch up. This still isn’t the smooth machine you see from the San Antonio Spurs at their best, but the Bulls finally have a decent offense to attach to their excellent defense.
It won’t be enough, most likely, for more than a conference semifinal, probably. But in an NBA that’s becoming more and more a league of general managers who keep thinking about the future, there’s nothing wrong with a team simply out there to play their best, even if their chances of winning anything this season are slim to none.