After picking up a hard-earned win over the Utah Jazz in a grueling four-overtime contest on Sunday, the Atlanta Hawks managed to bring good energy in their follow-up performance on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, even though they lost that game by seven points. When the Hawks returned home on Wednesday to take on the Chicago Bulls sans Derrick Rose (groin), the listless effort that seemed inevitable in the wake of Sunday's quadruple-overtime surprise finally manifested on the court. The Bulls used a 33-point second quarter, 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc by Luol Deng and a strong night from the backcourt to dispatch the Hawks 98-77 on the road.
Here's the Hawks' Tired Legs Checklist. Poor three-point shooting? Check. They shot 5-for-17 from beyond the arc (29.4 percent). Trouble connecting on jumpshots? Check. Atlanta suffered through 17-for-49 accuracy on shots outside the paint (34.7 percent). A consistent failure to attack the rim? Check. The Hawks only scored 30 points in the paint and took just nine shots from the free throw line as a team. One monster quarter by the opponent that turned the tide? Another check. A 33-point second quarter from the Bulls ripped the game open, as they hit two out of every three shots, dished out eight assists on 12 made shots and held the Hawks to 8-for-21 from the field over the same span.
Joe Johnson struggled for the second night in a row and scored just 12 points, while Jeff Teague cut down on his turnovers and dished out a team-high eight assists but needed 14 shots to earn 13 points. Josh Smith played an inefficient game as well by going 8-for-21 from the field to get a team-high 19 points. Zaza Pachulia grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and managed to survive as the only Hawks starter to shoot at least 50 percent from the field by working into the paint for tip-ins.
The Hawks' tired legs notwithstanding, this game was more proof that somebody needs to launch an investigation into Tom Thibodeau taking some sort of performance enhancing substances, because he's doing too good of a job coaching the Bulls this season. Not only is Chicago 41-11 and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, they also improved their record to 13-5 in games without Derrick Rose. The Bulls dominated for large swaths of this game as well, despite sub-par efforts from C.J. Watson (1-7 FGs for five points and four assists) and John Lucas III (10 points on 3-8 shooting and five assists).
Luol Deng scored a team-high 22 points by nailing five threes -- one off his career-high -- and mixing in a few closer finishes as well. Deng found open look along the perimeter largely because the Bulls' frontcourt played so well. Carlos Boozer put in 20 points, Taj Gibson added a season-high with 19 and Joakim Noah provided 10 more points. That trio served to prop up Bulls' runs and to prevent any meaningful responses from the Hawks. Things almost got a bit testy with 6:41 left in the game, as Joe Johnson hit a wet spot on the floor while trying to defend a fast break and pulled Gibson down by the neck. All parties emerged from the situation no worse for the wear, and Johnson even avoided picking up a flagrant foul, so the potential crisis was averted. In fact, Bulls fans in Atlanta felt comfortable enough to start up the Brian Scalabrine chants, and he entered for a 1:18 that spiced up garbage time just a bit.
Chicago improved to 41-11 with the victory, and now sits four games ahead of the Miami Heat for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Meanwhile, the Hawks (30-22) lost their second consecutive game and now hold a tenuous one-game lead on the Boston Celtics for the No. 6 seed.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.