Instant Reaction: Hawks 83, Bulls 80

Quick Thought: You had to be here.

Summary:

How do you sum up a win so emotional that there were 48 comments in the comment area before I got back to the hotel to type this up?

How do you sum up a game so emotional that as loud as the M-V-P chants were for Derrick Rose when the Bulls sprinted out (literally) to a double digit lead in the first quarter and the boos were for Al Horford when he sucked it up to shoot late fourth quarter free throws, that the noise when Horford threw down the go-ahead score and the subsequent steal/jam by Joe Johnson made that noise turn into a whimper?

You can't, so I'll try to take you through it. For those who were there, it will be a sweet trip back through victory lane. For those who weren't, hopefully it will give you the sense of what was happening, but it can't match the goosebumps of hearing Philips Arena in sheer delight.

Buckle up.

The Atlanta Hawks played stainky basketball...that's right stainky....for the first half, getting beat to loose balls, looking lost and discombobulated on offense, running into each other---basically the whole Keystone Cops approach to the game.

All the while, Horford kept plugging along, putting up a solid 9/9 first half on 4/8 shooting, trying to keep his team afloat. He was cheerleading in the huddle his coach admitted after the game, never letting the team down. 

But, at one point, Horford turned it up even higher, launching himself into a zone where the Bulls would get enveloped and marginalized for the rest of the game.

That point came with 2:55 left in the first half and Horford with the ball under the basket. As he went up, Carlos Boozer wrapped his sizeable arms around Horford's neck and threw him down. No flagrant was called, but Horford admitted to me after the game that Boozer's actions took the intensity up another notch for him. 

When the second half began, the Hawks blitzed the Bulls on both ends, holding the Bulls scoreless for the first four minutes of the half. From that point the Hawks kept banging away at the Bulls lead, the deficit shrinking like a melting cube of ice on a hot Atlanta afternoon.

Horford was at the center of it, literally, playing all 12 minutes of the third quarter, hitting 6-8 of his shots, including an improbable corner three.

At the other end, Kirk Hinrich was busy attempting to cement the postiives of the deadline deal that brought him to the ATL. His defense on Derrick Rose was exemplary, helping to limit the Bulls All-Star to 0-5 shooting with 5 turnovers in the third quarter. The Hawks outscored the Bulls 25-13 in the quarter and had the deficit down to five. 

In the fourth quarter there was more defense---and there was more Al Horford.

The main Hawks on the floor tonight (Josh Smith being relegated to the tunnel in a suit due to his balky knee), Joe Johnson, and Al Horford both played the entire second half. The Hawks kept pounding, kept scrapping away defensively, trying desperately to bring the game to even. The Bulls would continue to miss, but they also kept gathering their own misfires. But they were only able to score (3) second chance points from their (6) offensive rebounds.

With 2:33 left in the game and the Bulls up 3, Rose rebounded his own miss and made straight to the basket. Meeting him there was Marvin, and the Stache, channeling his own inner Josh Smith, went up and swatted away Rose's attempt leading to a Jamal Crawford layup/Luol Deng goal tend. 

Jamal would lose Kyle Korver on the other end, and Korver put the Bulls up 4 again, but Jamal drove inside the next trip down. With the Hawks going small in the fourth, Marvin Williams had slid down into the "4" position, meaning Boozer was responsible for him. As Crawford drove in, Boozer cheated down and when he did, Jamal hit Marvin on the right wing for a three to take the game back down to one.

After a pair of Bulls misses on their next possession, the Hawks had the chance to take the lead after Noah fouled Horford gathering Noah's miss. Amidst a heavy chorus of boos from the "visiting" Bulls fans, Horford gamely split his pair of free throws and the Hawks had their first tie since 0-0.

Noah returned Al's favor by splitting a pair of his own free throws and on the next Hawks possession, with 37.1 seconds left, the Hawks emerged from the timeout with a chance to take the lead.

Crawford got the ball on the inbounds and ran a pick and roll with Horford. For a split second, the Bulls parted just enough for Jamal to slip the ball on the bounce to Horford. Al took a step, went up, and slammed the ball home through Luol Deng, who was trying to wear Horford like a Snuggie.

The Hawks now had their first lead of the game, courtesy of Horford tying his career high 31st point.

As the Bulls came out of the timeout, now it was Joe Johnson covering Derrick Rose. Rose inbounded the ball to Boozer and immediately Joe fronted Rose, darting back and forth, making a pass to him extremely difficult. Under such duress, Rose committed his 6th and most costly turnover. The ball, fittingly, ended up in the hands of Horford and he quickly threw it ahead to the sprinting Johnson.

Johnson, knowing he had Rose behind him with designs on blocking any layup attempt, went up strong and jammed the ball home. 

The Bulls came down and tried to get a three, but Horford was harassing Rose and he missed the three. Noah got the ball and hit a wide open Korver, whose very purpose on the floor was to hit the shot he was about to take. His attempt, however, missed everything but the waiting hands of Horford and just like that, the game was over.

Improbable even 24 game minutes before, but Al Horford carried his team to victory. Boss.

The Stars:

I would really love to include some other guys in this area also, but tonight there was one who stood taller than the rest, and it was Al Horford.

22 points, 7 rebounds, 9-12 shooting, 2 assists, 2 steals, zero turnovers....in the second half.

Boozer/Noah: 3-8, 8 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 turnover. 

For the game Al was 13-20/4-7 for 31 points, 16 rebounds in 41 minutes.

He carried the team, in every sense of the word, to this win. We joked before the game that we'll know when Al has passed Joe as the acknowledged franchise player on the team when he gets the final intro before the game. To any who may have thought otherwise, check the DVR tonight. Al is the man on this team.

Also:

Johnson was way off, again, shooting tonight (5-20), but contributed 7 rebounds and 9 assists to go with his 12 points.

And you have to acknowledge the game clinching defense he played on the pivotal possession, where he danced, waved, and stayed in front of Rose when he knew Rose wanted the handoff...and wouldn't let him have it. Then to force the turnover, race down the floor and jam it for the win.....all those pesky bricks were forgiven.

Johnson was able to be so energetic despite playing 39 minutes because he wasn't having to cover Rose all night long. Kirk Hinrich was able to help bottle up Rose in the second half. In fact....

The second half numbers for the Bulls? 

Rose: 1-11/0-4, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers

Boozer: 2-4, 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 block

Noah: 1-4, 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 turnovers

Deng: 3-8, 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block

The Hawks forced the Bulls outside more and the result was a 50-30 swing play, with the Bulls shooting 30 percent to the Hawks 49 percent. A complete reversal of the first half, right down to the part where the Hawks took the lead and the win.

More:

Kris and I will have audio and transcripts from the post-game tonight. Some highlights:

Larry Drew calling Josh Smith a "kamikaze" and commenting casually about his ability to run the break and "potentially having the ball end up in the stands".

Horford acknowledging that the Boozer foul raised the intensity level of the game.

Johnson discussing his late game dunk, knowing Rose was behind him.

Marvin discussing his block on Rose and the late game three.

Great game--enjoy the ones like this, everybody!!! Let's Go Hawks!

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