ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 25: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls drives against the Atlanta Hawks on February 25, 2014 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
WARRIORS AT BULLs
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.
ATLANTA — It wasn’t supposed to be a fight.
Come into Atlanta, beat a Hawks team that had lost eight of its last nine games, strut out of Philips Arena, enjoy the flight home.
There weren’t supposed to be sighs of relief around the locker room and scratches on Joakim Noah’s upper body.
“We’re just trying to find a way,’’ Noah said after the Bulls’ 107-103 victory Tuesday. “They really wanted that game, and we wanted it, too. It wasn’t pretty at times, but I’m just happy we were able to come out with the win.’’
Since coming out of the All-Star break, the intensity of the teams battling for position in the Eastern Conference has been obvious, starting last week in Toronto and continuing against the Hawks. The games might not be aesthetically pleasing, but coach Tom Thibodeau said you can throw that concept out the window.
“The end game is getting the win,’’ Thibodeau said.
“Whatever you’re facing, you have to be prepared to deal with that and deal with that efficiently.’’
The Bulls (30-26) had trouble grasping that concept at times. Luckily against the Hawks, there was plenty of margin for error.
Trailing 103-101, Kirk Hinrich drew a questionable foul on a three-point attempt, and with 40.8 seconds left, he made all three free throws to give the Bulls a 104-103 lead.
It appeared that the Hawks (26-30) got the lead back on a three-pointer by Mike Scott, but coach Mike Budenholzer had called a timeout before the shot was released. The Hawks then turned the ball over on a Hinrich steal with 23 seconds left, but the Bulls didn’t put the Hawks away.
Mike Dunleavy’s inbounds pass to Noah was stolen, giving the Hawks a chance to take the lead.
But Jeff Teague stepped out of bounds while dribbling underneath the basket, and Hinrich was fouled with 11 seconds left. After he made both free throws, the Bulls had a three-point lead.
After the timeout, Scott attempted a game-tying three-pointer that was stymied by Noah, giving Hinrich the chance to ice the game by splitting his two free throws with 4.7 seconds left.
“ ‘Kirkie’ was huge,’’ Noah said. “He hit big free throws, had steals. That was huge for this team. He brings that energy on the defensive end and just makes sure that everyone is in the right spot on offense.
‘‘He’s playing real confident, playing good basketball for us, and that’s huge.’’
Noah wasn’t so bad himself, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“At the end of a game, particularly one in which we didn’t play great, doing whatever is necessary to win is the important thing,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to scratch them out; that’s what we’ve got to do.’’
Or at least get scratched up trying.