The Atlanta Hawks were down 12 players for Monday night’s 130-118 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
For Wednesday’s rematch at the United Center, they were even more shorthanded.
With Bogdan Bogdanović (who played 41 minutes Monday), Gorgui Dieng (who played 22) and Malik Ellison entering health and safety protocols Tuesday, the Hawks rolled into Chicago with 13 players in protocols and two more out with additional injuries – leaving, head coach Nate McMillan said pregame, just four players from their regular rotation: Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Clint Capela and two-way guard Skylar Mays.
In turn, the Bulls won in a 131-117 rout in which they at one point led by 27. The result pushed their current win streak to five and their season-long record to 22-10.
Here are 10 observations:
Young got his, finishing the night with 26 points and 11 assists. But the Bulls wore him out as the game went on, and, without much NBA talent around him, the Hawks superstar failed to produce with his typically transcendent efficiency. He got his points on 10-for-23 shooting, and coughed up seven turnovers.
2. Dosunmu said after morning shootaround that taking the challenge of guarding players like Young is part of the “joy of basketball.” The Bulls rookie, according to NBA.com, held Young to 0-for-5 shooting, forced a turnover and blocked a shot when matched up with him in Monday’s game.
Dosunmu’s 20 minutes on Wednesday featured even more defensive highlights. In the second quarter, he blocked Young again along the baseline, and toward the end of the period cleanly stripped him as he attempted a blow-by. In the third quarter, Dosunmu emphatically swatted Young again, giving him three blocks of Young in two games.
"He's a dog, just like myself," Green said of Dosunmu postgame. "He doesn't back down from nobody. He just wants to get better, he wants the big moment. It's the Chicago in him, I guess."
At the offensive end, Dosunmu made his first five shots – including multiple transition lay-ins and a stepback 3-pointer – en route to 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
3. The Bulls dropped 130 points on 54.3 percent shooting in Monday’s win, then outdid themselves Wednesday against an even more depleted Atlanta side.
In the first half, they scored a new-season-high 74 points – 38 in the first quarter, 36 in the second – on mind-bending 69.8 percent shooting. Not only did they hand out 24 assists in the game’s first 24 minutes, they scored 22 points on the fastbreak, eclipsing their per-game average of 13.6, which ranked ninth in the NBA entering play. Thirteen of those fastbreak points came in the second quarter, which the Bulls won 36-17 to blow the game open; the Hawks hung around until the 6:24 mark of the period before the hosts launched a 24-5 run to close the half.
By game’s end, the Bulls set new season-highs in assists (38), fastbreak points (31) and field-goal percentage (61.4 percent) – and placed seven in double figures (all five starters, plus Dosunmu and Tyler Cook). Each of the 12 players that logged minutes scored.
4. Asked before the game what he thinks is behind the Bulls’ drastic improvement from last season to this one, McMillan cited first the play of the Bulls’ “three All-Stars”: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.
And while the Bulls received contributions from just about everyone who played, that trio again carried a heavy load. Between LaVine’s 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting, DeRozan’s 20 points on 8-for-18 and Vučević’s 16 points on 8-for-14, those three combined for 61 points on 57.8 percent shooting – and it felt routine.
5. Vučević’s contributions warrant special mention. He continued his stretch of consistently strong play with 20 rebounds, three steals and a block – moving his averages during the Bulls’ five-game winning streak to 18.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2 blocks (while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from 3-point range).
6. White notched his first double-double of the season, tallying 17 points and 12 assists (against just three turnovers). That assist mark is just one off his career-high.
While the 3-ball still isn’t falling with consistency – he missed five of his first six long-range attempts before going 2-for-3 in the fourth quarter – White was aggressive with his driving opportunities and made responsible decisions as a passer when he got downhill, whether in the halfcourt or transition.
7. Once again, with their depth strained with Ball and Alex Caruso on the shelf, the Bulls won the bench-points battle – this time 39-36 against a skeleton Hawks crew.
Troy Brown Jr.’s instincts were impressive as a defender, where he tipped away three steals, and as an open-floor passer, where he racked up six assists. And Cook continues to prove a menace around the rim, scoring 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting and punching home a handful of powerful dunks.
8. Derrick Jones Jr. was listed as available to return for this one after a three-game absence with a hamstring strain, but didn’t check in until the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter. He pulled down two rebounds and got two free throws after being fouled on an outrageous dunk attempt.
Acting head coach Chris Fleming said after the game that the decision to sit Jones Jr. to that point was partially based on game flow, given the current rotation’s rhythm dating back to Monday, but that he’ll play more moving forward.
“He’s (Jones Jr.) an important part for us,” Fleming said.
9. Mac McClung, donning double-zeroes on his jersey, made his Bulls – and NBA – debut with a three-minute stint at the end of the fourth quarter. He committed a turnover on a behind-the-back pass attempt, but also drilled a pull-up midrange jumper to the delight of the home crowd.
Between LaVine, Jones Jr., Green (who scored 14 points on a handful of opportunistic rim runs), Cook, Caruso – and, heck, toss DeRozan and a healthy Patrick Williams in there – the Bulls could hold quite the in-house dunk contest if they so choose. A sampling of some of the slams from this highly-entertaining, up-and-down affair:
Next up: At the Indiana Pacers on Friday.