With the exception of a second-quarter surge, the Chicago Bulls were routed right out of Philips Arena by the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, 109-94. The loss snapped the Bulls' six-game winning streak and dropped them to 7-2.
Playing again without both Rip Hamilton and C.J. Watson, the Bulls had five players in double figures, led by reserve point guard John Lucas III's career-high 16 points. Derrick Rose (eight points), Luol Deng (eight) and Joakim Noah (one) combined to score just 17 points on 7-for-27 shooting. Carlos Boozer put up 12 points, although he had his struggles defensively, again missed a layup from point-blank range and was stripped by Hawks guard Jeff Teague on the inbounds pass to start the second half. When the 6-foot-8 power forward was in the game, the Bulls were outscored by 39 points. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver, who has clearly regained confidence in his shooting stroke, poured in 13 points and three three-pointers.
The Hawks built a 12-1 lead just over three minutes into the game and led 33-18 after one quarter of play because of a blistering shooting display, 14-for-28 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. However, the Bulls rallied in the second quarter, cutting the Hawks' lead to 45-43 with four minutes and nine seconds left in the first half, and appeared ready to take over the game. But the Hawks answered with an 18-2 run to take a 63-45 lead at halftime.
Hawks forward Josh Smith had a game-high 25 points, five rebounds and six blocks, while Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Teague scored 17, 14 and 12 points, respectively. But Vladamir Radmanovic, an NBA journeyman, surprised Chicago's fans and knocked down several shots in transition that left the Bulls reeling. He finished with 17 points and went 5-for-5 from three-point land.
Coach Tom Thibodeau was certaintly upset with his team's countless defensive breakdowns. Atlanta shot about 57 percent from the field and nailed 9-of-12 shots from three-point range -- the kind of numbers that respected, acclaimed defenses aren't supposed to allow. In addition, the Bulls turned the ball over 19 times, nine of which came in the third quarter when they were outscored 22-17. Rose had a game-high five turnovers. Although the Hawks were the ones playing their third game in three nights, they were able to maintain energy and control throughout the game.
With the Bulls having never led and trailing by as many as 29 points in the second half, Thibodeau went with a group of Lucas, Korver, rookie Jimmy Butler, Brian Scalabrine and Taj Gibson for the majority of the final quarter, resting the entire starting lineup. Yes, the veteran coach knows when to pull the plug on his key players.
Gibson posted 11 points and two rebounds in 29 minutes of action. Statistically, fellow reserve big man Omer Asik had his best performance of the season, scoring eight points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Butler dropped 12 points on 3-for-3 shooting in 12 minutes, showing why the Bulls have so much faith in him. He also made 6-of-6 free throws. The Bulls were able to cut the deficit to 14 points with two minutes and 47 seconds left, but the Hawks went on a 6-0 run to essentially put the visitors away for good.
Next, the Bulls have a day off Sunday before starting their lone back-to-back-to-back set of the compressed 66-game season on Monday night against the Detroit Pistons at the United Center.