K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls have been in more stretch runs than a thoroughbred racehorse this season, blowing fourth-quarter opportunities more often than not. That trend continued Tuesday night at the United Center when the Bulls faltered in the fourth quarter of a 105-102 loss to the Hawks. Mike Bibby scored a season-high 31 points, including nine in the final five minutes, as the Bulls followed a familiar script. ‘That’s the story of our season,’ guard Ben Gordon said. ‘We’re not very good at closing games out.’”
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “‘The turnovers really hurt us,’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after his team committed 17 which the Hawks turned into 22 points. ‘Mike Bibby had his way with us. The difference was really [Zaza] Pachulia — his 18 points really bothered us. He got easy baskets and got after us on the glass a bit.’ After a Derrick Rose layup with 5:21 left, the Bulls led 94-93. But the Hawks then went on a 12-4 run before Rose (13 points) nailed a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds to go. ‘At the end of the game we needed to get stops,’ Rose said after the second game in as many days the Bulls lost in the final minutes. ‘This is real tough, but some way we have to find a way out and finish games. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we have to come together as a team.’”
Sekou K Smith of the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Bibby was trashing the Bulls everywhere else, though, outplaying heralded Bulls rookie point guard Derrick Rose along the way. Bibby had nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and two of those steals in the fourth quarter, when the Hawks had to break a 77-77 tie and did so by a mere three points, 28-25. Bibby made his only 3-pointer of the quarter and had a crucial steal with 40 seconds to play that set up his game-clinching jumper with 18.9 seconds on the game clock. ‘We used Bibby as our horse tonight,’ Josh Smith said. ‘He’s one of those players that once he gets it going he’s kind of hard to stop. And you saw him in clutch situations, he was hitting big shot after big shot. And when Joe [Johnson] doesn’t have it, we feel good knowing we have Bibby there, too.’”
Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald: “Rookie point guard Derrick Rose took 41 shots in the two games leading into Tuesday night’s game against Atlanta, yet had only two free-throw attempts. Gaining penetration into the lane with an eye toward successfully drawing contact and making more trips to the line is something Rose is trying to learn. ‘I definitely would have thought I’d get more [calls],’ Rose said. ‘I just have to do a better job of giving the refs a reason to give me the calls.’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, a former guard, is working with Rose on that issue. ‘I think he’s just got to continue to be aggressive, just continue to attack the basket, and the referees will eventually come around with that stuff,’ Del Negro said. ‘But he’s got to continually attack, get body contact, not try to jump over guys or around guys or whatever.’”
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “The Bulls might be close to trading veteran guard Larry Hughes to the New Jersey Nets for former DePaul forward Bobby Simmons. A league source confirmed a report in the Bergen (N.J.) Record that the teams have had serious trade talks. It’s up to the Nets to sign off, and the deal will get done. ‘That’s fine,’ Hughes said before the Bulls hosted the Atlanta Hawks at United Center. ‘I’m ready to play, whether it’s here or somewhere else.’”
The result: The Hawks (25-16) beat the Bulls (18-25) in Chicago by the score of 105-102.
The good: The Bulls pounded the glass like they were Ivan Drago and the poor ball was Apollo Creed (“What are you guys doing?! This is supposed to be an exhibition!!”): They won the rebounding battle 48-34 and ripped down 20 offensive boards. They also shot fairly well as a team (48.2 percent) while keeping the Hawks pretty cold (43.5 percent). Ben Gordon bounced back from that cringe-inducing game against the Knicks to score 21 points (6-for-11 from the field, 8-for-10 from the line) to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Luol Deng had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Joakim Noah came close (9 points, 11 boards). Captain Kirk’s phaser has been set to “kill ‘em off the bench” since his return, and he had another solid outing against Atlanta with 13 points, 4 rebounds and a team-high 8 assists. Andres Nocioni was even more deadly off the pine, going for 15 points (5-for-10), 8 rebounds, 2 steals and the best plus-minus score on the team (+18). And at times, Aaron Gray (9 points, 4-for-4, 5 rebounds) looked like a legitimate backup center. (Say it with me everybody: “Now if only he could do that every game…”)
The bad: Tyrus Thomas pulled one of his patented “I played well yesterday so I’m taking tonight off” disappearing acts, grabbing a measely 1 rebound, shooting 2-for-7 and finishing with almost as many fouls (5) as points (6) in 19 minutes of “action.” It took Luol Deng 16 shots to score his 12 points. Chicago’s interior defenders were once again exploited by a mediocre (at best) big man, as Zaza Pachulia scored a season-high 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. The defense failed to adjust to Mike Bibby once he caught fire, and Bibs finished with season-high 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting, including several clutch fourth-quarter hoops.
The ugly: The biggest problem, though, was the team’s case of the slipperydigititis: The Bulls committed 18 turnovers – led by Gordon (5), Hinrich (4) and Rose (3) – which turned into 22 points for the Hawks. And since they only forced 11 for 13, they finished -9 in points off turnovers. And yeah, that probably matters in a 3-point loss.
The other biggest problem – yes, there were two biggest problems – was their continuing inability to finish games. They actually took a 96-93 lead off of Derrick Rose’s driving layup with 5:19 remaining. Here’s a recap of their final 11 possession: Missed three-pointer by Gordon; missed layup by Deng; layup by Gordon; turnover by Rose; missed three-pointer by Hinrich; missed jump shot by Deng; Gordon hit two (out of three) free throws; turnover by Gordon; missed three-pointer by Gordon; desperation three-ball by Rose; Gordon hit one of two foul shots (with the second being an intentional miss so that the Bulls could try and get the ball back before time expired).
That closing sequence – which has become pretty familiar in the Windy City – is indicative of a team without a go-to guy or a coach who can get his key players high-percentage shots in crunch time. Oh, and when Gordon missed the second of those three freebies with 1:09 left, he blew a chance to pull his team to within one possession. That was a huge miss, as was his turnover with 40 seconds and the forced three-pointer he missed with six ticks left. And Medium Ben is Chicago’s clutchiest player? Yeah. Problem.
Meaningless stat of the night: By my unofficial count, Bibby and Pachulia are the 11th and 12th players this season to set a new season-high in scoring against the Bulls.
Meaningful stat of the night: Rose attempted zero free throws, marking the fifth time this season he’s “failed” to make it to the line. I used quotations marks there because he missed three layups against the Hawks on which there was, in my opinion, enough contact to justify a whistle. I know it’s generally frowned upon to constantly gripe about how a particular player is officiated, but Rose goes hard to the bucket a lot. According to 82games.com, he attempts 43 percent of his shots “inside.” That’s a higher percentage than Amare Stoudemire (42), LeBron James (40), Tim Duncan (39), Tony Parker (37), Carmelo Anthony (36), Chris Bosh (35), Dwyane Wade (32), Kevin Garnett (32), Chris Paul (28), Paul Pierce (26), Kobe Bryant (22)…see where I’m going with this? Those guys seem to earn their fair share of freebies. (For example, Kobe’s been fouled 310 times to Derrick’s 60.) Why not Rose? Yeah, okay, he’s a rookie. But a foul’s a foul, right?
Fake quote of the night: Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro (didn’t but probably would have) said: “We rebounded really well and did a good job shooting the ball. But we had too many turnovers and couldn’t get a stop down the stretch. I liked the effort. Our guys played with energy. But they have to learn how to finish games.”
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.