Friday, March 11, 2011Posted: 9:25 PM Updated 10:50 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
Its said that revenge is a dish best served cold and the Bulls served the visiting Hawks with a not-so-delectable treat Friday evening at the United Center, following a disappointing collapse in Atlanta last week.
Led by league MVP favorite Derrick Roses 34-point night, Luol Dengs co-starring effort while dinged up and a stifling defensive performance, Chicago (46-18) clipped Atlantas (37-28) wings, 94-76.
Tonight, they were just giving it to me, said Rose, who scored 18 of his points in the pivotal third quarter, afterwards. I always say Ive got to learn how to get fouled and me going to the hole just attacking, putting pressure on them made them decide whether to jump or just let me have a layup.
Chimed in Deng: Its fun playing with Derrick and were all glad hes on our side. When he gets it going, its tough to stop and it makes it easier for all of us out there.
The game began in a low-scoring affair as both teams got off to an abysmal start shooting the ball mostly due to Atlantas poor shot selection and Chicago simply struggling to find the mark.
Deng was a game-time decision because of a bruised left thigh suffered Wednesday in Charlotte and looked no worse for the wear with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, carrying the home teams offensive load.
Aging veteran Kurt Thomas (four points, 13 rebounds) made contributions on both ends after earning the starting nod with Carlos Boozer sidelined due to a sprained left ankle.
With Boozer out, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau tinkered with the rotation and rested both Rose (34 points, five assists, six rebounds) and Joakim Noah early, in addition to fellow starter Keith Bogans, who was typically replaced midway through the first period.
Dengs efforts and a stout team defensive effort offset a strong start by former Bulls fan favorite Kirk Hinrich (11 points) in his first game back in the United Center since being traded to the Hawks and Chicago held a 22-20 advantage after the first quarter.
As a leader, he stepped up. Thats what hes supposed to do. It shows what kind of player he is, what kind of teammate he is, said Rose of Deng, his fellow captain. He gave us all hes got.
One of the early substitutes, C.J. Watson, made his presence felt early in the second period, providing energy, instant offense, underrated playmaking and building upon his solid body of work the entire second half of the season as Roses understudy.
Rookie Omer Asik, who has been drawing more and more fan support, joined in the fun with a pair of monster two-handed slams, as if to further display the emergence of the entire Bulls bench. Still, the Hawks remained resilient and with instant offense from sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (another former Bulls player) combined with forward Josh Smiths (15 points) interior efforts and Hinrichs timely scoring, the visitors erased Chicagos slim cushion and tied the contest midway through the quarter.
Upon the return of Rose and Noah (11 rebounds), the excitement quotient definitely went up. Roses swashbuckling penetration is always a crowd-pleaser, while Noah diving for a loose ball near the Bulls bench, with his body horizontal to the court, also garnered the approval of the United Center audience, but the Hawks kept it a tight-knit affair.
Despite a late scoring burst from Rose, the Bulls trailed 50-48 at the intermission, following a deep jumper by All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (16 points) before the halftime buzzer.
Chicago nursed a slight edge to begin the third quarter with Roses offensive assertiveness the catalyst and continued tough team defense supporting the All-Stars scoring efforts. Atlanta hit a major scoring drought, only scoring two points in the halfs first seven minutes, enabling the Bulls lead to balloon to double digits, with Roses determined drives and acrobatic finishes a constant.
My shot wasnt falling. I was just trying to get to the line, Rose explained. They were going over the screen and it left me with the big, one-on-one and I was trying to make their bigs into shot-blockers.
Rose had previously struggled to get to the free-throw line earlier in the season, but made up for an off night shooting from the field with his ability to draw fouls and manufacture points from the charity stripe while eventually finding his touch from the field.
With Deng as his offensive sidekick, Thomas and Noahs co-ownership of the backboards and energy off the bench from Gibson, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 72-60 advantage.
We just tightened things up, said Rose. All things were cooking for us in the second half on the defensive side.
Added Deng: Our bigs were amazing. Our bigs were great. Last time we played down there, they kind of bullied us around, they got their way.
Kurt Thomas was great on Al Horford, who had his way with us the last time, continued Deng, who said his thigh was a little tight after the game. The team, defensively, in the second half was great.
A typical push by the Bulls' reserves allowed the home team to extend the squads lead, as Dengs usual go-to guy presence with the second unit sparked the collective effort. The visitors tried to mount comeback attempts, but Chicago continued to deny them easy opportunities and in Thibodeau-speak, finished the defense, with defensive rebounding and any chance for sustained progress by Atlanta was futile at the periods midway point.
While the home fans requests for veteran reserve Brian Scalabrine may have been a bit premature, the tenor of the contest was such that it was understandable why the Chicago loyalists believed the game was in the bag, even if Thibodeau wasnt absolutely positive yet. Chipping into the deficit started to seem impossible for the Hawks, as their harried shots were more often than not off the mark and after a late scoring flurry by Rose, the gap widened even further.
Thibodeau eventually acknowledged victory and inserted newly-acquired swingman Rasual Butler, who knocked down a three-pointer off a Rose assist before the Chicago native exited the game. Also, the crowds wish was granted, as Scalabrine not only checked in, but hit a deep jumper, much to the delight of the entire United Center.
Afterwards, the Bulls were nonplussed when asked about gaining ground on the Celtics Boston lost to Philadelphia Friday night, putting Chicago within a half-game of the Eastern Conference leaders for the top spot in the East.
Bostons Boston. All those teams Miami, Boston theyre going to do what they do, said Deng. Were really focused on us.
Concurred Rose: If us winning games put us in the number-one spot, thats great. If not, were still trying to play hard.
Rose took it a step further, stating that the teams focus wouldnt be swayed by even Saturday nights celebration of the 20th anniversary of the franchises first title, an event that will bring Bulls legends like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant the latter pair was courtside for the evenings win back to the United Center.
I know tomorrows going to be a big celebration, but whats the celebration if we lose? Were not trying to do that, stated Rose. Were trying to focus on winning. The celebration is great, I hope that Im able to do that one day, but were just trying to focus on Utah.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.