The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks got together on Monday night for a clash of Eastern Conference playoff teams (at least right now), and the home team emerged with a victory. The Hawks nearly led wire to wire, and when the jumbotron flipped to triple zeroes at Philips Arena, Atlanta improved to 17-7 overall and 12-2 at home with a 93-86 victory.
After a back-and-forth start to the game, the Hawks drew "first blood" on the strength of an early run. Atlanta raced to a 10-0 spurt to claim a 16-9 lead, and the barrage featured back-to-back dunks from Al Horford and Paul Millsap, before Millsap capped things off with a three. Aside from that, it was a largely uneventful quarter, but the Hawks did manage to corral a 6-point lead at the end of one on the strength of 52% shooting and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc as a team.
The Bulls sprinted out of the gate in the second quarter, scoring the first five points, but fell short of claiming the lead, and they would not at any point before the halftime break. Atlanta shot just 7 for 19 (37%) from the floor in the period, nearly giving up the lead on numerous occasions, but a 5-0 spurt to close the half (highlighted by a huge Kyle Korver three) gave the Hawks a 6-point cushion at the break with the score sitting at 50-44.
Al Horford led the way in the first half with 11 points and 5 rebounds, and his activity was highly encouraging. As a team, the Hawks struggled to just 43% shooting (largely due to the second quarter woes), but the home team did knock down six threes, and that helped to overcome a sound beating on the glass, with Chicago grabbing 29 of the 49 available rebounds. Jimmy Butler (14 points, 6 rebounds) was certainly a problem for Atlanta, but holding the Bulls to 38% shooting (including 3 for 13 from Derrick Rose) did wonders for the Hawks in the first 24 minutes.
The third quarter wasn't exactly... eventful, but it was positive on the side of the home team. The Hawks led for the duration of the period, despite never lengthening the advantage into double-digits, and the Chicago offense struggled mightily. At this point, the Bulls were shooting just 37% from the floor and 18% from three, and even a 42-29 rebounding edge for Chicago wasn't enough to overcome that lack of offensive execution. Elton Brand scored six huge points and provided quality play off the bench, and Dennis Schröder closed the quarter with a gorgeous floater to give the Hawks a 9-point lead at 73-64.
Of course, nothing against the Chicago Bulls can come easy, and the road team made a charge (with some help by Atlanta) to begin the fourth. The Bulls scored the first seven points of the quarter to climb within two at 73-71, and the Hawks did not scratch in the quarter until the 8:19 mark, when Mike Scott found the bottom of the net. Fortunately for the home team, Chicago could never quite get over the hump, with the Hawks coming up with stops (aided by awful shot selection, at times, from the Bulls) and just enough offense from Atlanta. The lead was never "safe" until Jeff Teague knocked down two free throws with 10.8 seconds left (after the Hawks secured a late jump ball) to extend the lead to five, but the good guys never trailed from the middle of the first quarter to the final buzzer and the 93-86 victory.
This was a breakout night from Al Horford, and that is, quite frankly, a lot of fun. The big man finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, and more than that, he was incredibly active on both ends of the floor, sending flashbacks to his All-Star level days before the injury. Kyle Korver added four threes and Paul Millsap produced 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals, but this night belonged to the team's anchor in the middle.
To be frank, this was anything but a "pretty" win, but they count all the same. The Bulls have been a long-time nemesis for the Hawks, and even on a night where the offense did not excel (43% FG, 33% 3-PT), it was fun to see that particular mountain scaled by this group. Atlanta will be back in action on Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but until then, we'll savor this one.