Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls have served as the nemesis for the Atlanta Hawks over the past few seasons, and unfortunately, that was no different on Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The Bulls shot 51% from the field and 48% from 3-point range as a team, outpacing their normal offensive production, and in the process, they were able to run away late for a 105-92 victory that served as their 6th straight in the series.
The game began with a flurry of offense for the Hawks, and to be honest, virtually no one (including myself) expected that. Kyle Korver exploded for 9 points on a trio of three-pointers in the first 6 minutes, and as a team, Atlanta converted their first 5 threes and 7 of their first 9 shot attempts with some help from 10 points (4-4 FG, 2-2 3-PT) from Jeff Teague. That early proficiency provided a bit of a cushion on the scoreboard in the early going, but unfortunately, the Hawks were unable to take full advantage, as Chicago shot 61% from the floor in the opening quarter themselves to tie the game at 31-31 after the first 12 minutes.
After the initial positivity on offense, things came to a crashing halt in the second quarter. The Hawks shot just 7 of 23 from the field and 1 for 8 from 3-point distance in the frame, and there was a specific stretch of disaster for Atlanta. During a 7-minute stretch near the close of the half, the Hawks missed 13 of 14 field goal attempts, and in the process, Chicago capitalized to the tune of a 16-3 run that allowed them to grab a 9-point advantage. Throw in a DJ Augustin (contested) three at the buzzer, and the Bulls were able to take an 8-point lead into the break.
The second half began with much more stability for the Hawks, as they fluctuated between a 9-point deficit and a 3-point deficit for the duration of the third quarter. Elton Brand began the half with the starting lineup, replacing Pero Antic, and it should certainly be noted that he played extremely well defensively, as well as the fact that Mike Muscala actually appeared off the bench before Antic was called on for minutes. Jeff Teague pulsed the offense with 9 points in the third (bringing his stat line to 21 points and 6 assists through 3), but aside from that, there was little in the way of flash.
With a 14-3 run between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th quarters, the Bulls forged ahead to a considerable lead at 87-73 with just 8:26 to play. From there, the Hawks responded in kind with a quick, 7-0 spurt of their own to cut the lead in half in less than 90 seconds, but that burst of hope was short-lived, as the Bulls would never allow the Hawks to get any closer than 6 points (multiple times) before pulling away on the strength of a 5-0 run to give the road team an insurmountable, 11-point lead with 2:14 to play.
Jeff Teague had a big night for the Hawks with 21 points and 8 assists, but as usual with Jeff, it was an inconsistent brand of basketball. Teague went for 10 points in the 1st quarter and 9 points in the 3rd, but that was basically the total extent of his damage, as he failed to score a point in the final period despite playing the final 9 minutes and 7 seconds. In addition to Teague's efforts, Paul Millsap had his second consecutive monster double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but aside from that leading duo, there was little in the way of notable offensive accomplishment, and only Elton Brand (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals in 26 minutes) played at an above-average level.
Because the New York Knicks were able to grab a runaway home victory on Wednesday night, this loss means that, for the first time, the Hawks have surrendered the lock on playoff positioning. Atlanta and New York are now tied in the standings, but fortunately, the Hawks have the nod in the loss column and in the tiebreaker scenarios, meaning that if the season ended today, they would hold on the playoff spot. However, that is of little consolation after a game like this, as despite playing a reasonable brand of basketball, the Hawks simply didn't have enough, even in their home building, to topple the always tough Bulls.