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Hawks unable to keep Drummond in check in loss to Bulls

The Bulls center (pick-and) rolled back the years with a dominant display.

Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered a third successive defeat as they fell short of the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, 118-113, at the United Center.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 22 points with Trae Young’s 30+ points and 10+ assists streak coming to an end as he scored 21 points to go with 13 assists. For the Bulls — without Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic — DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points while Andre Drummond stole the show with 24 points and 25 rebounds.

The Hawks were given a welcome boost of their own with the return of Jalen Johnson to the lineup after missing a month due to hand injury, but De’Andre Hunter (right knee inflammation) remained sidelined, and the Hawks lost Seth Lundy after only a minute into his stint in the first half due to an ankle sprain (his status is yet unknown going forward).

It was the Bulls who began this game the stronger of the two sides, taking a double-digit lead just before the end of the first quarter. The Hawks, having scored just 17 points in the first quarter, put together a run and outscored the Bulls 39-22 in the second quarter to not only overturn the double-digit deficit but also made one of their own before taking a six point lead into the locker room. The third quarter saw the Hawks hold a lead for most of the way, but the Bulls edged their way back into the game and briefly took a lead in the latter stages of the third before completing their second half turnaround in the fourth, where they held the lead for most of the way.

It did, however, come down to the clutch plays so let’s take a look at those and see where this one got away from the Hawks.

We’ll pick it up just as the game ticks under four minutes and the Bulls break the tie with a three-pointer from Alex Caruso:

You’d have to imagine Johnson helping on DeRozan was part of the plan in this spot, which means Dejounte Murray is the one who has to rotate if the ball is kicked out, and it is. Murray can’t be faulted much for this, it must be said. Coby White is definitely the more prolific threat from three and if Murray closes to Caruso the ball can just be zipped to the corner. That said, when it becomes clear Caruso is shooting it himself Murray has already halted his closeout, perhaps he could’ve put up a distant contest instead of a wide open shot but, regardless, Caruso knocks it down.

The Hawks think they have a dead-certain lob with Clint Capela as Young throws it up but the play is broken up by Drummond, utilizing his size to the maximum:

It’s a fun play from the Hawks: the pick-and-roll with Young and Johnson forces Drummond to step in and plug the gap and this allows Capela to slip in behind for the oop. It would’ve worked, but Drummond is a very tall man and he does very well to intercept this one.

A Saddiq Bey offensive rebound and basket at the rim on the second chance gets the Hawks back within a point and a Bulls timeout is called with 3:12 remaining. From an out-of-bounds baseline situation later in the clock after this timeout, the Bulls run a play to get DeRozan curling off a number of bodies and his catch-and-shoot jumpshot is hit:

This wasn’t executed too well defensively from the Hawks not poorly, by any means but perhaps a couple of miscommunications here. Johnson, who defended DeRozan often in the fourth and earlier in this game (to, at times, great effect) was always going to be taken out of the equation with these screens but that didn’t stop him from trying to get back to his man. Young does his part, too, but his contest was never going to really impact the shot. It’s the Capela-Bey side of things where this is let down as to an effective DeRozan challenge. Capela should probably be the one to rotate to DeRozan and challenge, Bey should stay with Drummond, Johnson should probably have given up and switched elsewhere as he was never getting back to DeRozan after the two screens from Drummond and Caruso. Even taking Johnson out of the equation, you’d probably take your chances with another Caruso three rather (though a 45% shooter from three on the season was 0-of-4 at that point) than let DeRozan have this kind of shot in the fourth quarter.

The Hawks, again, work themselves into a good play on their next offensive trip as Bey is given an open look at a three following the pass from Young but more importantly the screen from Johnson opens the shot here for Bey but he cannot convert:

It’s a well-worked opportunity but no dice for Bey this time.

It was certainly an easier opportunity than the one Murray would score on the Hawks’ next trip, as he squeezes by Caruso on the drive and hits the leaning shot to bring the Hawks within a point with just over two minutes remaining:

It’s really from this point onwards where things begin to go wrong for the Hawks down the stretch, beginning with this tough shot from DeRozan after the switch:

A tough shot from DeRozan, nothing more Bey can do in this scenario...that’s just what DeRozan does.

The Hawks are unable to find a reply as Murray’s drive ends as soon as it begins as Caruso cleverly positions himself for the charge at the three-point line, resulting in the Atlanta turnover:

A savvy play from Caruso and it puts the Hawks in dangerous territory where a basket for the Bulls puts them in a two possession hole with time quickly running out.

The Bulls get more than one chance to do just that. The first three is missed from White but Johnson tries to get the ball to Young too quickly and his pass is knocked free by Caruso, who goes to the ground to secure possession for the Bulls. After that, the Bulls move the ball and it ends in the hands of Caruso in the corner, who misses the three but the offensive rebound is collected by Ayo Dosunmu who gets the ball back to a cutting Caruso but he fails to go up strongly with the ball at the rim and his hesitation/unnecessary adjustment is punished as he leaves the ball short and the Hawks, somehow, escape without conceding:

The Hawks manage to get themselves to the free throw line with Young after a foul by Drummond but Young can only split the free throws to leave the Hawks trailing by two points at 111-113. DeRozan again comes through for the Bulls as he gets Johnson with the fake and knows he can step through and he guides the lay-in home:

A costly sequence from the Hawks here. It’s not the first time Young has missed clutch free throws this season, normally so dependable in those scenarios. Johnson did well initially to stay with the drive from DeRozan but was sold a dream after that and DeRozan left him absolutely still — a crafty move from the veteran.

The Hawks are obviously now in big, big trouble trailing by four points with under half a minute remaining and now take a timeout. Out of it, Young attempts and misses a quick three:

This looked truly terrible live and it’s hard to see it as anything other than that even in hindsight. Defended by a good perimeter defender in Caruso, a contested three four seconds into the shotclock with the shotclock being turned off regardless when the Bulls either inbound it off a make or off a miss... I understand the angle of going for a quick shot but the Hawks were down two possessions regardless. It seemed an odd choice but with the miss the Hawks’ fate is effectively sealed and the Bulls seal the game hereafter.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder was unhappy with the Hawks’ second half performance, in which they conceded 68 points while only scoring 57.

“After doing a fairly decent job in the first half defensively — Drummond hurt us on the boards and a few things like that — but the second half, our execution on the defensive end was poor,” opened Snyder postgame. “They were on the rim the whole half. You still have a chance to win if we make shots but if we’re not making shots at a given time and giving up 60-70 points in a half it’s not a game we’re going to win. Unfortunately that was the case tonight.”

A quick gander at the shotchart actually shows a pretty poor percentage from the Bulls in the second half at the rim:

It was one of those that seemed worse than it was, and I think that’s what Snyder must have believed as he watched his side in that second half. He was clearly unhappy and perhaps wanted to make a point about how easy it was for another team to score nearly 70 points on the Hawks in a half.

Snyder also lamented the Hawks’ mental errors, unhappy with the Hawks’ failure to value possessions and their tendency to try get back into the game using their offense rather than their defense.

“We, collectively, have to make each possession more important,” said Snyder. “We had some mental mistakes where we did get stops and either didn’t come up with the loose ball or threw the ball away. We can’t afford to put more pressure on ourselves and if we’re not making shots that defensive end becomes even more important. Sometimes we want to get it back on the offensive end (but) we need to get it back on the defensive end. That just has to be more focus on our defensive execution, and it wasn’t one thing. The thing it was, was a series a breakdowns across the board. If we did get a stop we a hard time securing the rebound.”

Snyder begun his next sentence with “In general, we...” and proceeded stop himself from saying whatever it was he was about to say next and his press conference ended after that, lasting under two minutes in total. Snyder was clearly frustrated but opted to hold his tongue in this instance. It would have been interesting to hear what it was he chose to let go.

As he alluded to, Andre Drummond presented a problem to the Hawks in this game. In this festive time, the man known as ‘The Big Penguin’ grabbed 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting and 25 rebounds, 10 of them offensive rebounds. He was a menace, a thorn in the Hawks’ side that pricked the Hawks with his combination of size and sheer strength to either bully the Hawks on the boards or just tower above his competition.

We saw Drummond break up a lob in the clutch, he broke up this play earlier in the game:

Off of a White miss, Drummond is able to pick up the pieces on the second chance glass:

In a sea of bodies, Drummond skies above them all to collect the offensive rebound and score the putback:

If the play involved the Hawks’ center to help on a contest from a guard then that was it, Drummond would clean up with ease:

At the rim, Drummond contests Capela’s shot at the rim and just gravitated to the rebound to take it away from Wesley Matthews:

Again, Drummond contests the shot — this time from Onyeka Okongwu — and leans back to snatch the rebound before it even gets a chance to fall into Okongwu’s outstretched arms:

Drummond was in a different class to any Atlanta big last night. Capela I thought had his moments on the offensive glass but two defensive rebounds compared to Drummond’s 15 I think showed the chasm in play between the two last night. In the end, the rebounding numbers were not too outrageous. While the Bulls won the boards 48-40 and had 18 offensive rebounds to the Hawks’ 12, they only scored three more second chance points (24-21).

Looking at the Hawks’ side of things, a tough night for their three primary shotmakers in Young, Murray and Bogdanovic.

Murray was a quiet 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, Bogdanovic 8-of-21 from the field and 3-of-12 from three for 22 points and Young’s 30+ points and 10+ assists streak ended with 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting and 3-of-12 from three. Combined, they shot 20-of-53 from the field and 8-of-33 from three. Always going to be a tough night when none of those three particularly have it going.

There was, however, positive news for the Hawks in that Jalen Johnson returned to the lineup and looked almost as sharp as when he left. Johnson scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 29 minutes but it was activity and defense that he injected into the Hawks.

He featured in a highlight play where he went skyward to smash home offensive putback slam:

On DeRozan, Johnson had a number of great defensive plays, including staying ahead of DeRozan on this possession and contesting a fadeaway shot very effectively, resulting in an air-ball:

Not to mention this one-on-one sequence where Johnson rips the ball away from DeRozan for the steal:

Johnson has been sorely missed for the Hawks and on a night where Andre Drummond isn’t playing you’ll see that impact on the glass too.

While Johnson’s return was a positive, it’s hard to spin this game off positively. The Hawks were close in this one but lacked the execution to get it done. That can happen any night, but the larger picture is a more difficult one to convey. The Bulls were also missing key players in LaVine and Vucevic and have a similar record to the Hawks: this was one the visitors needed.

Now, they’ve lost three straight, are six games below .500 at 12-18, have dropped a game behind the Bulls for the last play-in spot, and are only half a game ahead of the Raptors. And if they fall behind Toronto, the only three teams behind the Hawks in the East are the Hornets, Wizards and the Pistons who just lost their 27th straight game — those three teams know they’re not good, nor trying especially hard to be good. That is not good for the Hawks, who are actively trying to win. There have been injuries, sure, and Hunter continuing to miss time isn’t ideal, but the reality is most teams deal with injuries.

As the Hawks head into 2024, there will surely be some serious head scratching from all involved come as the trade deadline looms larger...


The Hawks (6-12) head back to Atlanta for a home tilt against the Sacramento Kings (17-12), who come off a stinging defeat to the Trail Blazers and will no doubt arrive in Atlanta with a score to settle for that loss.

Until next time...