Bulls’ six-game winning streak snapped in loss to Hawks
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org January 7, 2012 9:18PM
Hawks guard Joe Johnson (right) is met by Bulls forward Luol Deng on a drive to the basket. | John Amis~AP
Updated: February 10, 2012 8:44AM
ATLANTA — The range of expressions on coach Tom Thibodeau’s face began with indignation and ended with resignation as three-point shots rained down on the Bulls on Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Thibodeau is known for his defensive-minded approach, but it’s impossible to stop a team whose accuracy improves the farther they get from the basket.
“This is the NBA,” Thibodeau said. “You have to come every night. You have to bring great intensity. If you let down just a little bit, this is what happens.”
The Bulls rallied from 19 down in the third quarter to defeat these Hawks at the United Center on Tuesday, but there was no coming back from this. Atlanta was playing for the third consecutive night, and its two previous games included a total of four overtime periods, but it was by far the fresher team and led by 29 in a 109-94 laugher that ended the Bulls’ six-game winning streak.
“The way we played was embarrassing,” center Joakim Noah said.
The first half was all Hawks. They made seven of their first eight from beyond 15 feet and led by 15 after the first quarter. The Bulls whittled it down to four before Atlanta closed the half on an 18-4 run fueled by four three-pointers to lead 63-45 at the break.
The Bulls only had allowed 100 points to one other opponent, but they never established their defense.
“Our defense was bad,” forward Luol Deng said. “We gave them the lead again. They had a lot of energy playing at home. Normally, we rely on our defense, but they shot the ball well in the first half. Give them credit. But our defense has to be better.”
The Hawks were shooting only 43 percent from the field for the season but made eight of nine three-pointers in the first half and shot 62 percent from the field. Forward Carlos Boozer began the second half with a turnover, and the Hawks continued their hot shooting. It soon became apparent that not even Derrick Rose could bring the Bulls back.
The Hawks sent defenders at Rose and also trapped him. He sat out the fourth quarter and finished with eight points and six assists. It’s precisely the type of defense he can expect in the playoffs, the kind of defense Miami used effectively against him in the Eastern Conference finals last season.
“I’ll take the blame,” Rose said. “I didn’t push the ball; I wasn’t aggressive. I couldn’t be because they were trapping me. But it’s no problem for me to take the blame.”
Little-used point guard John Lucas III had a team-high 16 points. Kyle Korver had 13 points and five assists, rookie Jimmy Butler scored 12 and Taj Gibson had 11 points.
Josh Smith had 25 points and six blocked shots for Atlanta. Vladimir Radmanovic was 5-for-5 from three-point range.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Noah said. “We don’t have anything figured out. It’s on us. The reality is, we have to do better. We can’t start the game like that and have our bench bail us out every time.”