Without three regular starters, Luol Deng, on the road, showed he’s put his hamstring injury behind him, along with another performance of just how good and versatile a player he is, along with the Chicago Bulls displaying their usual defense, depth and resilience.
They didn’t reach 100 points, the magic number for wins this season when it comes to the Bulls, but they did hold the Atlanta Hawks to 76 points, kept them at 39.2% from the field and dominated the rebounding 53-45, not to mention grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.
Jimmy Butler got another run in the starting lineup, as the Bulls played very-small ball, which didn’t really seem to bother them. Butler, one of the revelations of the season, had another double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, part of 44 boards the Bulls’ frontcourt brought down. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds as a starter this season (six games).
Taj Gibson is another player enjoying the absence of another, making it another game in which he shows that with minutes as a starter he can be just as productive as Carlos Boozer. Gibson scored 19 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, becoming the third Bulls player with a 19-19 game or better this season, joining Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Gibson got to start in his fourth game this season, averaging 17.5 points and 12 rebounds when he gets a chance in the lineup, usually coming with over 40 minutes on the floor.
They kept giving me electrolytes during the game but I just kept wanting to play. I know late in the game I ran out of gas and I didn’t want that to happen tonight because I felt like we let one slide last night and this team is even better. So I had to go out there and just play a little harder.
Luol Deng was the bottom line, and pretty much the best of everything tonight. He led the team with 25 points, including 3-6 from beyond the arc, while grabbing 14 rebounds, dishing 5 assists, adding 4 steals and 2 blocks. The last player with that kind of stat line (or better) is Josh Smith, almost exactly one year ago, for the Hawks in a win against the Suns.
The Bulls haven’t allowed a team to reach 100 points since January 16 (107-105 win vs the Raptors), but it’s clear that with only 8 players and Nate Robinson as their starting point guard, this kind of ability, especially on offense, won’t carry on for long. They simply played smart, simple basketball, turning the ball over 7 times, while forcing the Atlanta Hawks to rough shots after rough shot, looking very bad during long stretches of the game, although at least this wasn’t the 58 points they scored in their last game against the Bulls.
The Hawks had Josh Smith and Al Horford combine for 33 points and 25 rebounds, but they were outmuscled and hustled on about every opportunity, unable to match the Bulls when it came to a physical standpoint.
We did not respond in tonight’s game. From a physical standpoint, they absolutely manhandled us. They came out and just forced their will the whole game. They were by far the more aggressive team. You’ve got to give them credit. They really took it to us today.
With the 93-76 win, the Bulls are now 29-18, third in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Miami Heat.