The Atlanta Hawks snapped their three game losing skid last night, triumphing 103-88 over the Chicago Bulls at Philips Arena. Jeff Teague led the way with 19 points and nine assists, while strong performances from Paul Millsap (12 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks) and Al Horford (18 points, five rebounds, and four blocks) propelled the Hawks to a much needed win — their first victory since the All-Star break, when they also beat the Bulls.
The Bulls came into Atlanta with only a segment of their regular rotations available to them. Jimmy Butler (knee strain), Derrick Rose (hamstring tendinitis), Nikola Mirotic (appendectomy), and Joakim Noah (shoulder) were all unavailable for selection last night. On the ESPN broadcast last night, it was noted that those four guys accounted for an average on 53.8 points per game — essentially 54 points a game that the Bulls did not have available to them.
Pau Gasol has also been under the weather of late, and his participation in this game was unclear prior to tip off. It seemed to translate into his game, as he could only manage 16 points on 6-of-22 shooting, but accepted that “it is what it is”:
“I don’t feel well yet. I’m just trying to fight through it and do what I can. It’s hard. You don’t have your energy and legs and you get fatigued really quickly. But you keep playing and it is what it is–no point really in complaining about it.” — Pau Gasol
Gasol, despite his poor shooting, was dominant on the glass as he secured a game-high 17 rebounds on the night. The offense also had to run through Pau, since both guards on the floor (Moore and Brooks) are more so scoring guards than facilitators. The Bulls’ offense looked clueless when he was off the floor, particularly in the first half, and that’s a testament to Pau’s versatility. He didn’t have a bad game, he just needed some help and didn’t get any other than Doug McDermott — who led the Bulls’ scoring effort with 20.
A must win game
This was a very important game in the Hawks’ stretch run. Not just because the Hawks had lost three straight coming into this game, but because competition for seeding in the Eastern Conference is becoming fierce. With the Charlotte Hornets (who are two game adrift of the Hawks) picking up a huge victory over the Indiana Pacers, it re-affirmed the importance of a victory. The loss for Indiana and the victory for the Hawks, lifted the Hawks above both the Bulls and the Pacers in the standings into fifth place — and with the Miami Heat dropping this evening’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Hawks are right back in the hunt for home court advantage.
The victory also secured the season series with the Bulls with a game to spare — which could be hugely important as the race for seeding is sure to come down to the wire.
Hawks players chimed in on the importance of last night’s victory:
“It’s nice. We’ve had this homestand and it hasn’t gone the way we wanted (1-3 heading into the final game of homestand vs. Charlotte). To be able to come out tonight and get a win against them is big for us.
“I was telling Jeff this, every time we’ve played them, at least for us, I feel like it’s a must win. It’s not even about them, it’s our mindset. I should be that all the time, I’m just saying it’s really a must win.
“In my mind, you lose three in a row at home and you are getting ready to go on the road it doesn’t get easier.” — Al Horford
“It was a must win for us. We’ve been on a nice little slide there. We just wanted to come out and play good basketball and get a nice win.” — Jeff Teague
“Get back on the right track. Coming out of the break and losing three in a row is tough. It’s good to get a win under our belt.” — Paul Millsap
Heading into Sunday’s big game against the Charlotte Hornets, this certainly felt like a must win and this next game should be treated as such too. The Hornets have played two games less than the Hawks and are only two games behind. A win for the Hornets would also tie the season series, and it seems as though this Hornets team will be hovering about the sixth-eighth seed come April.
Turning turnovers into points
The Hawks are one of the best in the league when it comes to scoring off of opponents’ turnovers. Heading into this game the Hawks ranked second overall in this category — scoring 19.3 points per game. If you turn the ball over to this team, you’re really fuelling a defeat for yourself — and that’s exactly what the Bulls did last night.
In their two fixtures against the Hawks this season, the Bulls have averaged 20.5 turnovers per game — in those two games the Hawks have averaged 25 points off those turnovers. The Bulls did not learn their lesson, and committed 20 turnovers last night which the Hawks turned into 27 points.
The Bulls rank — pretty much — smack, bang in the middle of the pack when it comes to committing turnovers, committing an average of 14.2 per game. In three games against the Hawks they have averaged over 20 turnovers per game — this is something that will have to be fixed, since it’s conceivable that these two teams could face each in a 4 vs. 5 matchup.
Both sides believed that turnovers were the key to the game:
“Kind of what has gotten us in trouble the last couple of times we’ve played them is turnovers. They scored 27 off of them—that’s the key to the game right there.” — Doug McDermott
“(The Hawks) were the aggressors. They were getting their hands on balls, we weren’t tough with the ball and they just out-horsed us on the glass. That was the type of night it was for us.” — Chicago Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg
“That’s always indicative of how we are. When we are creating turnovers, we are at our best. Tonight, we were able to do that.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
The Hawks defense was great last night. They really got after the Bulls and forced a lot turnovers, came up with a lot of steals (14), and held a block party Dikembe Mutumbo would’ve been proud of (12).
A better game from Bazemore
After averaging just 4 points on 23% shooting (and 10% shooting from three-point range) in his first three games after the All-Star break, Kent Bazemore bounced back last night — scoring 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
It’s no secret his shot hasn’t been falling of late, so Bazemore decided (quite early in the game) to drive more to towards the hoop in the game and it paid dividend. Driving to the rim is one of Bazemore’s better strengths offensive end, and certainly his best strength when he’s shooting 10% from three-point range in the three games prior to this one.
It’s just as well he drove a little more, as he missed his first seven three-point attempts before nailing his eighth and final attempt. Before that make, Bazemore had missed his last 16 three-point attempts, but despite this, Bazemore insisted that he would just continue to shoot no matter how bad the slump may be:
One thing I will never stop doing is shooting. I had really good looks. My teammates were passing me the ball. I was 1-for-8 (from 3-point) and I was still shooting it. I still believe. I come in every day and work on my shot. I shoot it really well in practice. It just has to carry over.” — Kent Bazemore
Bazemore also acknowledged that he had gotten complacent with his three-point percentage (which had been over 40% for most of the season) and that he needs to get back to driving toward the rim more:
Me personally, I think I have to get back to attacking the rim, making the extra pass, attacking the center of the defense. For a second, a kind of fell in love with the 3-point shot. You make them at the clip I was, shooting it pretty well, you kind of get complacent. You have to go back to what got me here and put pressure on the rim, make teams defend the rim.” — Kent Bazemore
Bazemore didn’t just have a better game on the offensive end, but a better one of the defensive end too. After having a nightmare game against the Heat last week, and struggling with Harrison Barnes on Monday, he had a much better game defensively — as Coach Bud was quick to point out in his opening statement:
“I thought Kent Bazmore made a lot of defensive plays. Kent set that defensive mindset of denying everywhere.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
A better game for Baze — Hawks fans hope that his three-point stroke returns soon.
Rapid fire things of note
A few quick other observations:
- Paul Millsap struggled when it came to shooting the ball last night (3-of-12), but was fantastic on the defensive end. Taj Gibson — who is one of the Bulls’ better players to suit up last night given all their injuries — was very limited in production last night (11 points, seven rebounds, four turnovers) and that’s because Paul Millsap set the physical tone with him early when Gibson tried to post up Millsap. Millsap fronted Gibson often in the first half, denying him the ball and the opportunity to score big. A great job by Millsap.
- The Hawks have had issues taking care of the ball of late (averaging 18.3 turnovers per game since the All-Star break), but did a much better job protecting the ball last night — committing just 11 turnovers. Jeff Teague racked up nine assists while committing just one turnover.
- Kirk Hinrich made his first appearance in his second stint with the Hawks last night — appearing in garbage time when the game was basically over. Expect Kirk to remain a DNP-CD for a little bit, as he adjusts to the Hawks’ offensive and defensive schemes.
- Al Horford turned this game on its head, guaranteeing the Hawks’ victory in less than a minute in the fourth quarter. The Bulls did a good job of hanging around in this one, and had cut the Hawks lead to just 10 points 4:18 remaining. Horford connected on an alley-oop and then hit a three just a possession later to, suddenly, put the Hawks up by 15 with 3:20 remaining. The Bulls proceeded to call a timeout, and seemingly threw in the towel at this point, as Pau Gasol would not return to the court after the timeout. That’s what an All-Star does.