The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways as they knocked off the Chicago Bulls 130-124 at State Farm Arena on Thursday night.
Trae Young paved the way for the hosts — playing without John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu — with 39 points and 13 assists, while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 points. For the Bulls — without Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso — DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine scored 22 points each.
The Bulls maintained an edge for most of the first half before the frenetic second half began. From the Bulls taking a 10 point lead, to the Hawks quickly cutting into that lead to tie the game, to pushing a 10 point lead themselves before the Bulls responded again to erase the lead and then take another nine point lead in the fourth quarter before the Hawks clawed that back as well.
A topsy-turvy second half to be sure, but one that the Hawks went toe-to-toe with the highly seeded Bulls and we’ll pick things up as the Bulls go up by three points with just over four minutes remaining and an Atlanta timeout.
A nice play after the timeout gets the Hawks immediately back into the fray as Clint Capela and Bogdanovic create enough of a window for Young to launch into a three-pointer to tie the game at 114:
Two free throws from LaVine on the next possession are immediately clawed back as Bogdanovic draws the foul on LaVine himself on the drive and shot attempt in the paint:
Free throws were a huge factor in this game but we’ll touch on that more later.
The Hawks struggled to get stops all game long and DeRozan had already notched a number of baskets in the fourth quarter already but not on this possession as the contested shot from DeRozan is missed:
De’Andre Hunter had defended a number of DeRozan’s shots well but not no avail at times; this time his efforts were rewarded.
Hunter had the opportunity to give the Hawks the lead with two free throws but squandered them both, and while his defense on DeRozan on the following possession helped make up for it, Nikola Vucevic was on-hand to follow the miss to give the Bulls the lead again:
The Bulls’ lead is short-lived as Young comes off of the Kevin Huerter screen, drives and is halted before he finds Bogdanovic for the go-ahead three in the corner:
I’m not sure what the Bulls were going for with this 3-man stack-like defense on the weakside corner but it allowed a far too open shot for Bogdanovic.
The Hawks, again, are able to come up with the defensive stop, this time Hunter again thwarts DeRozan on the drive and helps force a travel:
Hunter allowed DeRozan to get by at times during the game but in the fourth quarter his defense was instrumental in limiting an extremely effective and deadly scorer.
The Hawks ensure they punish the Bulls for the few misses they did have and Young does so as his side-step three over Ayo Dosunmu is good, giving the Hawks a four-point lead with 1:13 remaining, leading to a Bulls timeout:
Coby White checked in for Tristan Thompson at the timeout and Huerter does a great job to hustle to the corner to not only contest but block White’s corner three and the Hawks take possession once again:
Young would seal the game for the Hawks as his isolation, step-back, falling three in the corner is hit, giving the Hawks a seven point lead with only 44 seconds remaining:
In a short amount of time, the game went from toe-to-toe to out of the Bulls’ hands; a fitting way for the game to end given how quickly leads were built and erased in the second half. The Hawks sealed the deal at the free throw line and pick up a much-needed and solid victory.
The Hawks scored 40 points in the fourth quarter on 68% shooting from the field and eight three-pointers to secure a big victory over one of the better sides of the Eastern Conference. Postgame, there was a general feeling that the Hawks wanted to make up for the Hawks’ loss in Chicago after the All-Star break, with Hawks head coach Nate McMillan noting the similarities in the two games and the difference in this one.
“We’ve been talking about finishing,” began McMillan postgame. “The last game we played in Chicago after the break we didn’t finish. I thought we were in a similar situation going into the fourth quarter; you had the lead and we didn’t make shots under a minute and we didn’t get stops. Tonight we did. We did things you needed to do as far as winning the game and made big shots, made free throws and we got stops when it counted in the last five minutes.”
Young felt he ‘owed’ the Hawks one after his tough shooting night in that particular game, and McMillan was pleased with how the Hawks responded in the second half as the Hawks sought to right the wrongs they felt in a game that got away from them in Chicago.
“I thought our guys responded with urgency,” said McMillan. “Came out and had a really big third and fourth quarter — 40 points in the fourth. We knew that DeRozan was going to have the ball in his hands. I thought our guys, Bogi and ‘Dre, did a real solid job of keeping him in front, staying attached to him and our bigs did a good job of being up on the screens and getting those guys through.”
For all McMillan talked about the Hawks defending DeRozan well, the forward still shot 10-of-20 from the field. In fact, every Bull shot well, so well that they shot 59% from the field for the game. Bogdanovic described this game as ‘one of the best defensive games all season’ from the point of view that LaVine, Vucevic and DeRozan scored no more than 22 points each, with the likes of LaVine and DeRozan more than capable of going for 35+. I guess he does have a point when put into that context because generally speaking when an opponent shoots 59% from the field for the game, it usually indicates the defense has failed quite often. Alas...
Despite DeRozan’s strong shooting on the game, he shot just 3-of-8 from the field in the final quarter. We’ve looked at how Hunter impacted in this regard, and Hunter enjoyed a much stronger game here than he did in Boston.
“Normally in this league when the ball goes in you get more energy,” said McMillan of Hunter. “I thought he really accepted that challenge of trying to guard DeRozan, who is probably one of the hottest players in the league. Just making him work, trying to stay in front of him. When he went out of the game Bogi took over and did a solid job of defending. ‘Dre allowed the defense to get him into the game. Offensively he attacked the basket and got something easy. I think that helped him.”
Hunter scored 18 points on 7-of-13 from the field and it was encouraging to see him attack aggressively in the opening stages of the third quarter, as well, of course, his defensive display against DeRozan.
A number of Hawks enjoyed strong games, such as Huerter (17 points), Clint Capela (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Bogdanovic (20 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter) but the star of the show was Young.
Young scored 39 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field, 7-of-9 from three and 10-of-10 from the free throw line despite being questionable with that ankle injury he suffered in Boston on Tuesday.
“You love to see him knocking down those shots,” said McMillan of Young. “He’s a confident kid. Even in the first quarter he looked like he was battling, trying to fight through that ankle and didn’t really have his lift. Second half he came out very aggressive. Some of the shots he was missing in the first half he started to knock those shots down. Then it’s just a matter of getting the matchup. I thought he did a good job of slowing down and getting the matchup we wanted in the pick-and-roll. We won the matchups tonight.”
Without Ball or Caruso, it was key to this game that Young excelled in his matchup and he did that, and some. Not only did he shoot extremely well and to devastating effect in the final quarter (16 points on 6-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from three) but he also got to the free throw line on 10 occasions: three more times than the Bulls as a team got to the line for the entire game.
The free throw disparity is where the Hawks won this game, outscoring the Bulls 24-6 at the line — a hugely notable disparity. The Hawks needed every one of those points, given the Bulls’ outstanding shooting percentages from the field and it was the one area they brought them steadily back into this game.
As the Hawks continue to get themselves back on track, every game they can execute in the fourth quarter like they did in this spot can only feed their confidence they are still the team they believe they can be. However, that will be tested as the Hawks begin a three-game road-trip but for now they can take encouragement in a really solid victory at home.
The Hawks (30-32) are back in action tonight against the Washington Wizards (28-33) in D.C.
A tough test for the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back against a team the Hawks are trying to build some clearance between as they continue to seek to solidify themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Until next time...