ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks have arguably been the most disappointing team in the NBA, but for whatever reason they have cast a spell over these Bulls.
Three games, three double-digit losses they’ve dealt the Bulls this season, and their 103-88 win Friday at Philips Arena broke a three-way tie for fifth place in the East, as the Bulls entered the evening percentage points ahead of the Hawks. But their usual bugaboo appeared, as it usually does in this matchup.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg warned his team of the Hawks’ trapping and aggressive defense, as the Bulls played hot potato in the first two matchups. It led to 21 turnovers this time, a familiar number and a big no-no considering all the impact players the Bulls were without.
“With the amount of games coming our way, everybody’s one or two games out of a seed, we’re jockeying for position,” Taj Gibson said. “We dropped the ball tonight.”
Derrick Rose was out for the second straight game with hamstring tendinitis, and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic were already out, with their returns still sometime away.
Doug McDermott scored 20 points, continuing his strong play, and Pau Gasol scored 16 points with 17 rebounds, but the Bulls were downright ineffective offensively, shooting 36 percent as only the first quarter featured a period in which the Bulls shot better than 40 percent.
“Right from the beginning they out-muscled us,” Hoiberg said. “I don’t get it. Three games we made a lot of progress but took a step back today. That’s all we talked about for two days was taking care of the ball. You don’t give yourself a chance to win. Too careless.”
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Luckily for the Bulls early, the Hawks were just as anemic offensively and twice as stubborn — an attribute they could afford to have given they weren’t without their main weapons.
“The problem was we were 1-for-10 (from 3-point range) in that stretch, they were 2-for-20,” Hoiberg noted. “We came back, we had a wide open shot to cut it to five at the end of the third quarter. We didn’t make it. It’s all about, they were the aggressors tonight.”
Though the final score was lopsided, it was more a byproduct of the Hawks pulling away late in the fourth quarter than the Bulls getting blown out of the building — but to be fair, the Bulls never made the Hawks do much more than sweat in the fourth.
“We didn’t get off to a good start with a lot of energy,” McDermott said. “They scored 27 off (turnovers), that’s the game right there.”
Bobby Portis’ jumper pulled the Bulls to within nine with 9:48 left, but that was about it as the Hawks overcame their 2-for-20 start from behind the 3-point line to dispose of the Bulls and their three-game winning streak.
“They were getting their hands on the ball, they were tougher with the ball,” Hoiberg said, as the Hawks only had 11 turnovers.
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The Bulls out-rebounded the Hawks, 49-48, but the key rebounds and possessions that could’ve swung precious momentum went the Hawks’ way.
“I feel we have a strong shot right now, we’re playing on a short deck,” said Gibson, who scored 11 with seven rebounds. “That’s another team we’re jockeying for playoff position with. We understand it’s a letdown tonight, it’s another one tomorrow. Once we play tomorrow, we move forward.”
Jeff Teague scored 19 with nine assists, while Al Horford scored 18 and Kent Bazemore scored 17 with seven rebounds — the biggest culprit of the Hawks’ terrible shooting, going 1-for-8 from 3.
While the win against Washington was an affair in which everyone could say they made positive contributions, the same couldn’t be said Friday night, as only McDermott and Gasol were in double figures until midway through the fourth quarter — and the high-scoring Bulls had just 76 points.
Ugly early, the Hawks took a 15-point lead before the Bulls went on a 15-7 run to close the first half.
Shooting wasn’t either team’s forte, but the Bulls’ margin for error left winning to be an impossible option as they scramble back home hoping this isn’t a first-round playoff matchup.