ATLANTA — Determined not to have the tables turned on them and be defeated by a severely undermanned team, the Bulls (30-26) outlasted the free-falling Hawks (26-30), 107-103, Tuesday night at Philips Arena, in a mistake-riddled performance featuring an uncharacteristic defensive showing.
Former Bulls fan favorite Kyle Korver (16 points) continued his record-setting streak for consecutive games with a three-pointer on the first possession of the contest. The elite-level sharpshooter then knocked down another triple on the Hawks’ subsequent possession, the beginning of a trend that saw that the hosts build an early cushion.
The Bulls faced a double-digit disadvantage, as the duo of Korver and point guard Jeff Teague (26 points, seven assists)—the older brother of Marquis, the ex-Bull and current Net, one of many ties between the two teams — more than countered what the frontcourt trio of Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) and All-Star center Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds) brought to the table. Even with only nine healthy players, something not unfamiliar to the visitors, the Hawks were able to maintain their lead, putting the Bulls in a 30-20 hole at the conclusion of the first quarter.
At the outset of the second period, the Bulls quickly clawed back into the game. Taj Gibson (14 points, eight rebounds) played a major role in the Bulls closing the gap, as the sixth man combined with Dunleavy to propel the visitors, though their trademark defense was still lacking, as evidenced by the scoring of Hawks role players Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack.
[WATCH: Augustin nails half court shot to end 3rd quarter]
The Bulls gradually caught up to Atlanta, even briefly overtaking them midway through the frame, as the contest evolved into a back-and-forth affair. Propelled by the tandem of Noah and Boozer, as well as backup point guard D.J. Augustin’s (10 points, six assists) playmaking, the Bulls made a push to end the first half and went into the intermission ahead, 54-51, following a Teague trey at the halftime buzzer.
After the break, the Bulls held on to their slim cushion, with rookie Tony Snell (10 points) — starting in place of the injured Jimmy Butler for the second consecutive game—made his presence felt, while Boozer continued to be a consistent weapon for the guests. But the Hawks managed to keep things close, and with Teague getting support from Mack and Scott, heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were up, 80-75, thanks to an Augustin half-court heave to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
The Hawks kept challenging the Bulls and gradually seized the game’s momentum, taking an 85-84 lead on a Lou Williams three-pointer with 8:40 remaining in the contest. Behind Noah and Dunleavy — the latter sat iut a grand total of nine seconds — functioning as offensive catalysts, the Bulls responded as the close-knit affair headed into its stretch run.
[MORE: Hustle plays make the difference in victory over Hawks]
Getting an unspeakably poor shooting performance from their point-guard platoon of Augustin and starter Kirk Hinrich (14 points), not to mention an uncharacteristically sieve-like defensive outing wasn’t necessarily a recipe for success, something the Hawks exploited. Atlanta took a 100-99 lead on a DeMarre Carroll basket with 1:41 and after a Dunleavy layup on the other end, the Hawks regained the lead on a Carroll triple.
Then, the Bulls lucked out when Hinrich appeared to have his three-point attempt late in the shot clock blocked by Carroll, but was dubiously awarded three shots—after an official review on the courtside video monitor — and drained all three to give the Bulls an 104-103 advantage with 40.8 seconds left. That bizarre sequence was matched on Atlanta’s next possession, as first-year Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer walked to the opposite end of the court to physically tap referee Bennie Adams, letting him know of his intentions to signal a timeout above the din of the crowd.
Scott would hit a three-pointer that the home crowd erroneously believed counted, though Adams waved it off with obvious glee. Following the timeout, Hinrich stole the ball, but the Bulls turned it over after a timeout of their own.
Teague brought the ball down and when driving under the basket, stepped on the baseline, giving it back to the Bulls. Hinrich was fouled with 11 seconds to go and knocked down a pair of free throws, giving the Bulls a 106-103 lead.
After yet another Hawks turnover, Hinrich was again fouled and split a pair of foul shots to seal the deal, much to the delight of the increasingly vocal faction of Bulls fans in the building.