Bulls 'humbled' by loss to Hawks as six-game winning streak ends


Bulls 'humbled' by loss to Hawks as six-game winning streak ends

ATLANTA — It was evident from the jump, the Bulls didn’t have the same energy and fervor as the Atlanta Hawks.

And it was just as evident their six-game winning streak would go up in smoke, as it did Saturday afternoon with a early-fourth quarter Hawks surge putting the Bulls away at Philips Arena, 120-105.

After falling behind by 19 early, the Bulls made a rousing comeback to put a scare into the team sitting a couple spots below them in the Eastern Conference, as this could very well be a second-round playoff matchup come May.

“Like Fred (Hoiberg) said, we have the bullseye on our backs now. People are starting to see us come around,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got outhustled. It’s good for us. That team really had their eye on us. We got humbled.”

It showed as the first minute of the fourth erased a lot of the Bulls’ hard work as turnovers, a game-long bugaboo, doomed them, leading to fast break dunks for the Hawks when they were reeling and possibly on the verge of collapse.

It was 22 giveaways that led to 25 Hawks points, as if they needed any more easy buckets, as the highest-scoring team in the East lived up to its reputation.

[MORE: Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths]

Al Horford dominated the afternoon with 33, 10 rebounds and six assists, giving Pau Gasol fits and leaving them to wonder if they had showed up in the first several minutes of the game if there would’ve been a different outcome.

 “Turnovers got their confidence up, our pick and roll coverage was not good, to say the least,” Hoiberg said. “They were getting whatever they wanted out there. (Horford) was phenomenal.”

They rebounded from a slow start against Boston, but they got burned with that fire on the road. The Hawks got to every loose ball, and kept the Bulls on their heels for the majority of the game.

Paul Millsap scored 18 with eight rebounds, two steals and six blocked shots, emphasizing the difference in energy between the two clubs.

The Bulls gave up nearly 50 points in the first 18 minutes, as they allowed the Hawks to execute their offense to its ball-moving and backdoor-cutting best. And with the Bulls not about to find an early rhythm, it was almost a laugher.

“I think we did a bad job of communicating while we were out there,” Rose said.  “They executed, they knew who were going down to on the inside. They played hard.”

There weren’t enough timeouts Hoiberg could have at his disposal to stem the tide and for the first time in awhile, Pau Gasol wasn’t available for the easy safety-valve jumpers for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.

It contributed to Rose having six turnovers and Butler three, but the Hawks simply made life difficult for the Bulls even through the Chicago runs.

“I think tonight, he got himself off his feet a couple times. A couple times we didn’t give him an outlet, that’s not on him,” said Hoiberg on Rose’s turnovers. “But a lot of careless ones, too many unforced.”

The Hawks’ bevy of bigs, including Horford and Tiago Splitter, were quick enough to jump out on Gasol while helping on drives to prevent the open looks. It was one reason it threw the Bulls all out of their rhythm, along with the Bulls’ overall sluggishness and inconsistent energy.

“We were trying to play catch-up the entire game,” Rose said. “We got within two, a call on the other end, a 3-point play, I don’t know that I touched him or whatever. But tonight we didn’t have that energy on the defensive side of the ball.”

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Gasol, who had been on a tear averaging 19.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 blocks in his last four games, couldn’t muster a similar showing when it was clearly needed.

He turned it over four times, often leading to fast breaks and wayward looks to the officials.

Then for a quarter and a half, the Bulls woke up, a chief reason why they scored more than 100 for the ninth straight game.

They came in waves, finally corralling the Hawks’ efficient offense and shut down the easy lanes to the basket and easier looks. Rose and Butler paced the comeback, along with the resurgent Nikola Mirotic, as the lead was slicked to two with a couple minutes remaining in the third.

Mirotic scored 24 with 10 rebounds while Butler led the Bulls with 27 and eight rebounds. Rose scored 17 with five assists in 35 minutes.

Butler picked up his fourth foul with over four minutes remaining but prodded Hoiberg into staying on the floor and went without picking up his fifth for the rest of the game, along with Rose playing the entire third, breaking usual Hoiberg trends.

The Hawks’ often-frenetic style took advantage of nearly every Bull mishap, especially with former Bull Kyle Korver stalking the perimeter for one of his three triples, although he didn’t have to do much once the Bulls decided to give the game away early in the fourth.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.