With Derrick Rose returning from a five-game absence as expected, the Chicago Bulls survived a late surge to defeat the Atlanta Hawks 90-82 on Monday afternoon at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 26-8, 12-2 at home, this season.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against a Hawks team that fell to 19-13. Rose dropped a game-high 23 points, six assists, five rebounds while shooting 8-for-18 from the field in almost 35 minutes of action. Carlos Boozer poured in 16 points to go along with five rebounds, while fellow big man Joakim Noah -- who went scoreless in Saturday afternoon's disappointing loss to the New Jersey Nets -- grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds (five offensive). Ronnie Brewer added 13 points. Luol Deng and John Lucas III scored 10 points apiece, the latter of whom knocked down three crucial jumpers in the second half.
Once again, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout early in the game, as the Bulls trailed 9-4 just over three minutes into the game. But his team went on a 13-2 run to take a 17-11 lead and continued to pour it on. Rose, who hadn't played since Feb. 8 because of lower back spasms, was aggressive after Thibodeau early-game timeout and scored nine first-quarter points on two three-pointers and a double-clutch, left-handed layup over Josh Smith. The Bulls were on top 35-17 through one quarter of play and dominated the visitors on the glass from start to finish They extended the lead to 55-37 at halftime, thanks to a 30-13 advantage on the glass and all-around efforts.
Rose's first fall on his back came in the opening frame when he received an outlet pass and exploded past former teammate Kirk Hinrich in transition. He was helped up by Brewer and did not show any ill effects of the tumble. The reigning NBA MVP again fell hard in the third quarter when he made an and-one layup over Smith, but he got up, made the free throw and moved well the rest of the game.
The Bulls led 70-49 with about four minutes left in the third quarter, but the Hawks came storming back. Behind former Bull Jannero Pargo, Atlanta finished the third on a 15-3 run to cut the Bulls' lead to nine at the end of the period. Pargo ended up with 19 points on five three-pointers. Smith had a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds but he missed 14-of-21 from the field. The Hawks were within 80-75 with five minutes, seven seconds left, but the Bulls were able to make plays when they needed to.
While the Bulls started the game with much more aggressiveness and energy than against the Nets, Thibodeau was irate heading into several second-half timeouts and livid due to the fact that his team continually gave up wide-open looks and allowed the Hawks back into the game. In the first half, the Bulls looked as if they were set to coast to an easy victory, but they let up and the Hawks capitalized. Speaking to ESPN when the third quarter ended, Thibodeau said: "We're giving them open looks and we're paying for it."
The Hawks shot just 40.5 percent from the field, where the Bulls were a paltry 38.6 percent. The home team didn't have much continuity on that end of the court. Thibodeau's bunch has to be ecstatic that Rose was able to play over 30 minutes and make everyone around him better, though. Obviously, Bulls fans are hopeful that Rose is able to put his back issues behind him -- and he seems to be headed in that direction given Monday's outing.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Tuesday before playing the Milwaukee Bucks (13-18) on Wednesday night at the United Center -- which will be their final game before the All-Star break.