Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my updated game story, with quotes, from the Hawks’ loss to the Bulls Wednesday.
It’s a dangerous game the Hawks are playing of late.
After falling behind by large first-half margins the past two games, the Hawks rallied only to fall short. The latest came Wednesday night in a 98-77 loss to the Bulls at Philips Arena.
The Hawks trailed the Bulls by 18 points in the first half. They used a 16-2 run to cut the lead to four points, 56-52, but could get no closer. The Bulls answered with an 18-4 run of their own in the third quarter to push the lead back to 18 points. Luol Deng provided the final nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer to cap the run. It came on a pass from Taj Gibson, who gathered the rebound of his own miss when Ivan Johnson failed to box him out.
From there the Bulls’ lead only increased.
“It’s very frustrating because we show signs of being a pretty good team but then when we play against some of the elites, like Chicago, we can’t have a lot of letdowns against them as we do against some of the teams that we normally get by,” Joe Johnson said. “Against a great team, you don’t have room for mistakes. As you see tonight, they took advantage of every mistake that we made.”
On Tuesday, the Hawks trailed by 17 points to the Bucks. They battled back to take a three-point lead before succumbing in the fourth quarter. They wouldn’t get that close against the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls.
Deng led the Bulls (41-11, 21-6 road) with a game-high 22 points, including five 3-pointers. Carlos Boozer added 20 points and Gibson had 19. The Bulls have won eight of their past 10 and have played without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose (groin) the past eight games. The Bulls took the regular-season series from the Hawks, 3-1.
As he has in the past, Johnson questioned the Hawks for not playing a role-oriented game.
“Chicago is a very disciplined team and everybody knows their role and plays their role to the fullest,” Johnson said. “As for us, sometimes we are not so disciplined. There may be a few guys who don’t know their role on this team. We do a lot that doesn’t help us, for whatever reason. That is why [the Bulls] are an elite team. They’ve got the MVP who hasn’t played in eight game and they go [6-2]. That goes to show they have guys who really value their roles and play their roles like no other.”
The Hawks (30-22, 16-8 home) lost for the second straight night, losing the final two in a streak of five games in six nights. After an off-day Thursday, the Hawks play a home-road back-to-back against the Knicks and 76ers and will have played seven games in nine days.
“I’m sure the guys are tired,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “But I told them we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to play the hand that’s dealt to us.”
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 19 points, but struggled from the field as he made 8 of 21 shots. Jeff Teague added 13 points and Johnson had 12 points.
The Bulls built its 18-point first half lead with a remarkable second quarter. They made 12 of 18 shots (66.7 percent), including five 3-pointers. For the first half, the Bulls were 7 of 8 (87.5 percent) from behind the arc. The only miss was a desperation heave at the buzzer. Deng had 14 first-half points as he made all three of his 3-point attempts. John Lucas had 10 points in the first half.
“Everybody was hitting shots from the point guards to the forwards,” Teague said. “Everybody was making shots. There isn’t much you can do about that.”
After pulling within four points in the third quarter, Drew said his team “got stuck in the mud.”
The Hawks led by eight points, 13-5, in the first quarter. But they would go cold in the second quarter, shooting just 8 of 21 (38.1 percent). Smith led the Hawks with 13 first-half points, but that came on 5 of 14 shooting.
The Bulls erased the Hawks early lead by going on a 14-2 run that ended the first quarter and started the second. They followed with an 18-7 run near the end of the half culminating with Lucas’ 3-pointer, the Bulls’ seventh straight, for a 54-36 lead.
“They made shots and when a team is making shots you have to tighten up a little tighter,” Drew said. “They had a good game tonight. You have to give credit where credit is due. We seemed to be a step behind in a lot of things.”
There were a few tense moments in a game that wasn’t close for long stretches. Johnson was close to being called for a flagrant foul with 6:41 remaining when he grabbed Gibson around the neck, pulling him to the floor, while trying to stop a layup. Zaza Pachulia, who on Tuesday ran into Johnson and opened a cut that required five stitches in his lip, inadvertently hit Kyle Kover in the head and drew blood.