ATLANTA A season-long revenge tour for the Bulls resumed Wednesday night at Philips Arena, as the Bulls (41-11) throttled the Hawks (30-22), 98-77, wiping away memories of a humbling January defeat in the same building. The hot hand of Luol Deng (22 points on 8 for 14 shooting with five 3-pointers) led the way, but the Bulls contributions from the entire lineup in bouncing back from a rare home loss at the United Center to the Nuggets Monday night.
Following a mildly disturbing recent trend, the Bulls dug themselves an early hole, allowing the hosts to take a 13-5 advantage, mostly by virtue of forcing turnovers and converting easy fast-break opportunities. Explosive forward Josh Smith (19 points, seven rebounds) was key for the Hawks in the early going, using his athleticism, versatility and underrated offensive prowess to key his squad, while center Zaza Pachulia added additional support.
The visitors would settle down, however, and with All-Star Deng leading the way, made it a close-knit affair. A balanced offensive attack and improved defensive focus allowed Chicago to close within 25-23 at the conclusion of the opening period.
Deng, paired with the Bench Mob, remained the hot hand in the second quarter and drained all three of his attempts from long range in the first half, while also doing an admirable job on Atlantas go-to scorer, fellow All-Star Joe Johnson (12 points). Backup center Omer Asik equipped the Bulls with a presence in the paint and once again, the inimitable John Lucas III (10 points, five assists) provided a spark, reaching double digits in the period with his instant-offense game.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague was a bright spot for the home team, but the guests continued to pour it on, with contributions from the likes of Joakim Noah (10 points, eight rebounds) and C.J. Watson helping to give them a double-digit lead. At the intermission, the Bulls held both a 54-42 advantage and all the momentum at Philips Arena, which was seemingly split between Windy City loyalists and disappointed Atlanta fans.
After the break, the Hawks stormed back, going on a 10-2 run to make it a four-point game early in the third quarter. Johnson woke up to spark the run, but the Hawks success wouldnt last long, as Carlos Boozer (20 points, nine rebounds) began knocking down his potent mid-range jumper.
Noah started to control the paint on both endsdominating the glass, blocking shots and scoring with his unique offensive gametaking pressure off the hot-shooting Deng, who would then capitalize on open perimeter looks, aiding the Bulls in regaining a double-digit edge. The led further ballooned and with Taj Gibson (19 points on 8 of 12 shooting) coming off the bench to provide energy, Chicago headed into the final stanza equipped with a commanding 76-60 lead.
Gibson maintained his high level of play early in the fourth quarter, blending strong finishes around the rim with mid-range jumpers, while raising the frustration of the opposition as Smith and Johnson delivered hard fouls on him in short succession.
Solid defense and continued execution on the offensive end by the Bulls kept the pressure on Atlanta toward the end of the game, but it was already academic. However, Boozer put the exclamation point on the blowout with a thunderous left-handed slam with under three minutes to go.