Game Recap: Bulls 76, Hawks 74

That was fun.

Also frustrating, gut-wrenching and nerve-wracking.

Not every game can be a 40-point win. Some nights, teams play like garbage and have to claw their way back from the brink of doom. That’s what the Bulls did last night against the Hawks.

The first 36 minutes of this game were bad. We’re talking “mid-90s Knicks-Heat” bad. The Bulls scored 15 points in the first quarter, which at that point was their second-lowest output for a single quarter this season. In the second quarter, they shot 2-for-21 and set a new low water mark for points in a quarter this season with 11. During the third quarter — when they fell behind by as many as 19 — their 16 points practically felt like an offensive explosion.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulls were down 56-42 and there was a definite “turn off the TV and go to bed early” feel about the last 12 minutes. Then Chicago opened the final stanza with back-to-back threes by Kyle Korver and Derrick Rose. And suddenly it was a game again.

That three-pointer by Rose was the first of three he would hit in the fourth, during which he erupted for 17 of his game-high 30 points.

Honestly, entering the final quarter, it looked like the Hawks had Rose pretty well figured out. They had stymied his drives and forced him into difficult shots.

But Rose went from “ordinary” to “MVP” just like that.

As Atlanta’s Al Horford put it: “We were right there with them. We dominated for most of the game. Just Derrick Rose happened.”

He sure did.

With 57 seconds remaining and the Bulls down a single point, Rose drove directly into a defense designed and determined to stop him and hit a driving layup to give his team a one-point lead.

(Honestly, I thought Rose was going to uncork a killer dunk on this play, but he was content to lay it in.)

On Atlanta’s next possession, Josh Smith nailed a jump shot to put the Hawks back up. Rose followed that play with a missed jumper of his own. Kyle Korver was forced to foul Jeff Teague, but Teague bricked both freebies. That set the stage for another driving layup by Rose…over Smith’s outstretched hand. Bulls back up by one.

Horford was fouled and hit one of two free throws — let’s be frank here: the Hawks were several missed foul shots away from winning this game — giving the Bulls a final chance with seven seconds to go.

And what a play.

With the Atlanta defense scrambling around to contain Rose, Luol Deng cut to the hoop and received a spot-on perfect pass from Joakim Noah for what turned out to be the winning bucket.

My hand is still hurting from handing out high fives.

Said Deng: “At the end of practice, we always run (the play). (Joakim) made a great pass. We had a feeling both of (the defenders) would go with Derrick.”

It was a good feeling all the way around.

Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “Obviously, we’re trying to get it to Derrick. They did a good job taking the first and second option away. Derrick set a great screen, (Noah) made a great pass and Luol made a great cut.”

The play caught the Hawks with their short pants down.

Said Horford: “We all assumed that the ball was coming back to Rose. We were going to come and trap. That was a great play by their coach designed to take the pressure from Rose and hit Deng on the back. We didn’t expect that at all.”

That simple-but-brilliant play was the final exclamation point on a furious 12 minutes in which the Bulls outscored the Hawks 34-18 to complete the semi-amazing comeback.

Put it this way: Chicago’s fourth quarter output eclipsed their first half output by eight points. And Roses’s 17 fourth quarter points were more than the Bulls had scored in any of the first three quarters.

Still, as good as it feels to come back, the Bulls nearly lost the game — maybe should have lost it — because of sloppy, slipshod play for 36 minutes.

Said Thibs: “It was disappointing the way we started the game. We played a low energy game. They played great and we caught a break (because) this was the second night for them in a back to back.”

Added Rose: “A win is a win and it’s hard to win in this league. But we know we’re 10 times better than what we showed out there. I felt bad for our fans to see us play that bad.”

At least you got us the win, Derrick.

Recap, Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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