Defense flops as Hawks come up short in Chicago

Jonathan Daniel

Defense and rebounding are often overlooked in the NBA, but if there was ever an argument for their importance, it took place in Chicago on Tuesday night.

The United Center has been a house of horrors for the Atlanta Hawks, and that continued in a big way on Tuesday night. Atlanta trailed by as many as 27 points during the grueling, 48-minute beat-down, and while the Hawks did battle significantly at times in the second half, the final score of 100-85 doesn't tell the entire story.

57-to-28.

Without context, it would be difficult to imagine that the above number was the rebounding margin of an NBA basketball game, but regrettably, the 29-rebound spread tells the tale of what went down on Tuesday. After the opening tip, Chicago grabbed 23 of the first 32 rebounds of the game (including 7 of the offensive variety), and by the time the first half ended with a 19-point deficit, the Hawks had been decimated 30-14 on the glass. Somehow, things wouldn't improve in any way, shape or form, and by the end of game, Chicago had snatched 67% of the available rebounds.

"I think our defense has slipped and is not where it needs to be. I don't think it is one major thing. I think our defensive rebounding has slipped and isn't where it needs to be." - Coach Mike Budenholzer

Well, that pretty much sums it up, and frankly, it's probably going a bit light on the situation.

On the whole, the defensive effort left a lot be desired, and Coach Budenholzer hit on that fact, even as the first thing in his opening, unprompted statement to the press. Rebounding is an inherently "defensive" attribute, simply because a defensive possession can only end with a made basket or a rebound, but aside from some admittedly hot outside shooting from the Bulls in the first half, the defense was entirely responsible for allowing 100 points (at a slow pace) to one of the worst offenses in the NBA. The Bulls, playing without one of their best offensive options in Carlos Boozer, shot more than 50% from the floor, assisted on 30 of 43 baskets, and even overcame 7 missed free throws in route to this type of performance.

With that, Budenholzer's comments ring true in my mind, and while they mostly leave the offense unscathed despite an ugly showing, there will be many times for that end of the floor to take a beating. This, however, isn't one of them. Only Lou Williams had what I would describe as an "above-average" offensive game (6-for-11, 13 points, 4 assists), but against the Bulls, there is little shame in 44% shooting, especially with the slow-ish pace of play.

The well-documented injuries in Atlanta's frontcourt do provide some reference point for just how Chicago was able to utterly dominate up front, but at the same time, this is the new reality for the Hawks. Gustavo Ayon was wholly ineffective (and hilarious on the offensive end) against Joakim Noah (who had a triple-double with 19 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists), and not even Elton Brand (8 points, 8 rebounds) could hold off the onslaught. Paul Millsap wasn't above reproach in this game, either, as he was soundly outplayed by Taj Gibson (24 points, 12 rebounds), but if you have a bone to pick with anyone on the Hawks roster, it would be impossible to narrow in on Millsap after all that he has accomplished.

It is important (or at least relevant) to dish out praise in the midst of a hideous outcome, and there is something to be said for the way the entire team responded in the second half. An 18-4 run in the third quarter brought a 22-point deficit down to 8, and another small push kept the lead at that 8-point margin with 8:47 remaining in the 4th quarter. However, the enormous deficit against a strong defensive team was simply too much, and when the shots stopped falling (the Hawks missed 7 straight shots and committed 2 turnovers over a 9-possession stretch), the Bulls ran away for good.

The sixth consecutive loss in the United Center also doubled as the fourth straight overall for Atlanta, and with that, the Hawks now sit behind these same Bulls in the standings with a .500 record for the first time since early December. Panic is a reflex that is usually misplaced, but with the general struggles of the team over the past week-plus, there is real, reasonable concern in the fan base that can be easily defended. The Hawks have a quick turnaround and a date with the 3rd-seeded Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, but unless things go quite differently, the doubters will increase in volume.

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