Coming into this game, the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls were among a handful of NBA teams with just a single loss on the young NBA season. Moreover, the Hawks and Bulls were first and second in offensive efficiency (with a decidedly small sample size). You wouldn't have known it from this game, in which the Bulls eventually prevailed by the third quarter looking score of 76-74.
With two minutes left in the third quarter, the Bulls had scored 37 points -- in 34 minutes! Some quick math tells me, that's a pace for 52 points in a game. Atlanta hadn't exactly been tearing it up themselves, but held a seemingly commanding 19-point lead at 56-37.
The game took a decided turn at that point, as the Bulls went on a 25-6 run over the next eight minutes, and it was suddenly tied midway through the final quarter. During the run, Derrick Rose scored 16 of his game-high 30 points and assisted on seven more. (By the way, how crazy is NBA basketball? Chicago scored 37 points in the first 34 minutes, then scored 25 in the next eight.) With all the momentum, at home, in a now tied game, one would have thought the Bulls would have won going away. But Atlanta managed to hold onto the lead until the last minute, and would have won had they not missed three free throws in the final 20 seconds -- they were a miserable 14 for 25 on the game. Instead, the missed free throws held the door open for the Bulls, and Rose converted a layup with nine seconds left, followed by a Luol Deng layup for the game-winner a few seconds later.
For Atlanta, they missed a golden opportunity to grab back-to-back wins against two of the best teams in the NBA, after handing the Heat their first defeat in Miami Monday night. It was difficult to know what to expect from the Hawks going into this season, as they turned over most of their second unit during the offseason. But the early results would seem to indicate that this will be among the better teams in the East.
Accordingly, Jason Walker from the Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops chose to remain positive after the game:
In back to back nights, the Hawks went into what is widely considered to be the best two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. What they did in six of eight quarters of those two games was to impose their own will and athleticism on these two teams and show that the Atlanta Hawks belong in any discussion regarding not just the playoffs, but potentially a home court advantage seed.
In the end, it was up to Rose to salvage what was otherwise a pretty difficult to watch game. The Hawks shot a miserable 35 percent for the game -- while the Bulls were even worse. In fact, only twice all of last season did a team manage to accomplish what the Bulls did tonight: to win a game while making less than 34 percent of their field goals. But as they showed on Christmas Day against the Lakers, the Bulls can look pretty ordinary for much of a game, and then crank up the defense while riding Rose's offense to a win in the closing moments. It's not a bad formula.
It's worth noting that while the Bulls starting frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer combine to make about $25 million a season, it was reserves Omer Asik and Taj Gibson (about $3 million) on the floor when Chicago mounted their comeback. Asik's impact in particular was not lost on Blog-a-Bull:
Asik was the catalyst throughout the comeback, standing tall under the basket (even if the referees didn't see it that way sometimes) and corralling every rebound. He was able to start the fast break off of Atlanta misses which reignited the formerly putrid Bulls offense.
With the win the Bulls tie the Heat for the best record in the league at 5-1, while the Hawks drop to 4-2.