CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 03: Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks dunks the ball over Omer Asik #3 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 3, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 76-74. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
A tough situation and a missed opportunity. That is how I would describe Atlanta's 76-74 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. It is a tough situation because as was described in the broadcast the Hawks are the only team that will play a back-to-back against the two Eastern Conference favorites in Miami and Chicago. It is also tough because Atlanta is in the midst of a nine games in 12 days stretch to start the season.
Its a missed opportunity because anytime you lead by 19 points in the second half of the game then you should win that game. Fatigue never reared its ugly head in that game until the Bulls made their run and then suddenly it was the Hawks that looked slow and unresponsive. After getting past the anger and disappointment of the game I have resigned myself that we will see more of this simply due to the compacted schedule.
However, it isn't like we haven't seen this sort of thing before involving the Hawks and once again the offense ground to a halt at crunch time. The player movement and ball movement that have been with the team throughout the season vanished when they needed it the most. No doubt Tracy McGrady would have helped the situation but he was on the bench with a bone bruise in his knee. With the game on the line, this core group has to prove that they can find the ball movement and player movement to get the shot they want. If they can't then Larry Drew is going to have to put the ball in Jeff Teague's hands to let him create an opportunity for one of the other starters.
Except for a few stretches in the game it was ugly most of the night. At times the player movement and ball movement were there through the first three quarters, the Hawks just simply missed the shots. Credit Chicago for being a heck of a defensive team and for having one of the few players in the NBA that is quick enough to cut Jeff Teague off and prevent him from getting to the basket. Even with the nitpicking of the offense, had the Hawks made free throws throughout the game or in crunch time, they still would have likely won the game.
Hawks got very little credit for Chicago's bad shooting throughout the first three quarters of the game. What I saw was an Atlanta team that was contesting at the rim and flying around while also switching in and out of the zone. More importantly they were rebounding Chicago's misses. In the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose happened and the Hawks lost the inbounder on the play that led to Deng's game-winning bucket. Still I can't help but feel that the defense as a whole was very good and that their stagnant offense in the fourth hurt them.
Chicago started their run at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Atlanta's second unit on the floor. Derrick Rose seemed to find his rhythm with Jannero Pargo guarding him. Hindsight suggests that Drew should have been quicker to come back with his starters but with a big lead I believe the thinking was to try to rest them for as long as they could. Neither Luol Deng nor Derrick Rose came out of the game in the second half but the Bulls aren't in the midst of a nine game in 12 days stretch to start the season. It turned out to be a gamble but at the time I didn't have a problem with it. Drew called a time out after two straight buckets by the Bulls and the starters re-entered with an 11 point lead.
Atlanta came within an eyelash of knocking off the two favorites in the Eastern Conference on back-to-back nights in their gyms. After the stinker in Houston on Saturday I am not sure anyone thought that was possible. Yet we are long past the need for moral victories and the slate will show a 1-2 road trip and a game that got away that was very winnable.
Atlanta will enjoy the day off on Wednesday before beginning their first back-to-back-to-back set of the season on Thursday when they host a rematch with the Heat. Atlanta hits the road on Friday with a game at Charlotte and then returns home on Saturday for the Bulls rematch. There is no rest for weary this go around.
Final Thought: I didn't even mention the fact that in this game I witnessed the absolute worst video overrule of a call that I have ever seen in the NBA. If they had the same look that we did on the TV broadcast I have no idea how you can make that call. Even though the call was atrocious, the Hawks still had opportunities to win the basketball game.