The Hawks played an inspired game – from start to finish – to earn a 93-86 victory over the Bulls Monday night at Philips Arena. It was a big start of a five-game stretch against top teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference.
The Hawks (17-7) are now 12-2 at home this season. They have won 10 of their past 11 games. Al Horford continued his stretch of impressive games of late with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls (15-9) with a game-high 22 points.
Here are my five observations on the game:
1. The Hawks played a strong first quarter that set the tone for the game. They caught the Bulls in transition and led 28-22 after the first period. The Bulls led 9-5 with 8:29 left in the first quarter. It would be their biggest lead of the game. The Hawks went on an 11-0 run and never trailed again.
The fast pace was one of the main objectives for the Hawks to minimize the Bulls’ height advantage.
“We just wanted to play with a lot of pace, get up and down and make it tough on them,” Teague said. “They are really big team, a really good defensive team when they get back in the halfcourt so we wanted to make it a full-court game.”
2. Derrick Rose, the Bulls All-Star point guard, was a point of emphasis for both teams. The Bulls wanted to get him into the paint. The Hawks wanted to keep him out of the paint.
The Hawks were successful early. Rose didn’t get inside in the first quarter and missed his first five shots. The Hawks played the pick-and-roll well.
“We didn’t do anything necessarily different or specific to Rose,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our pick-and-roll defense and our bigs ability to be in a stance and move their feet and keep some of these dynamic guards out of the paint, at least more often than not is something we talk about, we drill, we work on. He is one of the best in the league. I thought at times we were good and at times he was inside us.”
3. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau suggested before the game that he should have played Kyle Korver more when he had him in Chicago. He marveled at how Korver has gotten better later in his career.
He got to see it up close again.
Korver finished with 12 points, making 4 of 8 3-pointers. It moved him into 15th place on the NBA’s all-time 3-point list, now at 1,579.
4. The Hawks survived a couple of late mistakes. With the Hawks leading 87-81, Rose missed a 3-pointer with 1:44 left. Al Horford got the rebound and tried to push the ball up the center of the court himself only to have Jimmy Butler steal it. The Bulls cut the lead to three, 87-84, before a Horford jumper (more on that later) appeared to seal the victory.
However, the Bulls pulled to within three points again, 89-86, when the Hawks had an easy advantage going back up the court. Korver tried to pass to two wide-open teammates under the basket. Butler leapt to intercept the pass. Korver was able to grab the ball back and force a jump ball with 14.3 seconds left. The Hawks won the tip as Paul Millsap controlled and they were able to seal the game at the free-throw line.
“The jump ball that I never should have been in,” Korver said. “My goodness that was stupid. They were so wide open under the basket though. And Jimmy Butler jumps 15 feet in the air and gets it. Then I just tried, I didn’t even know what happened. I just tried to get in there and tip it somewhere. We got the ball. That was good.”
5. Horford had another big game. The Hawks center has been particularly strong the past five games. He was an Eastern Conference Player of the Week nominee after averaging 17.7 points in the previous four games. He added to that average with his 21-point effort. It was his fourth double-double, and second 20-point, 10-rebound, game of the season. He also tied a season-high with six assists.
His 19-foot jump shot with 57.5 seconds left gave the Hawks an 89-84 advantage.
“It was about time,” Horford said. “I missed a few of them around the elbow area that I normally make. They kept going in and out, in and out. Percentages I guess, right? I was due to make one and it was a big shot for us.”