It’s safe to say the Bulls have had an up and down season.
They have the one of the best road records in the league (10-5) but are barely above .500 at home (11-10).
They’ve earned impressive wins over the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat (on the road). They’re also 3-0 versus the New York Knicks, including two wins in Madison Square Garden. But they also have a mysterious collection of losses to teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns.
Take the previous two games: A fantastic win in New York followed immediately by a blowout loss at home to a Phoenix team that is spiraling hopelessly downward.
Watching the Bulls has become an adventure. Like running through a mine field win your eyes closed. Either you experience the ecstasy of escape or you get blown up. One or the other. And you never know which it’s going to be.
Take last night’s game. The Hawks arrived in Chicago with a 21-15 record. A tough game was expected, especially considering the Bulls’ lackluster home record.
The game wasn’t tough. It was an ugly blowout of a hapless opponent and one of the greatest defensive performances in franchise history.
The Hawks shot 29.3 percent from the field. According to Hoopdata, they shot 12-for-27 at the rim (44.5 percent), 2-for-8 from 3-9 feet (25.0 percent), 2-for-6 from 10-15 feet (33.4 percent), 6-for-24 from 16-23 feet (25.0 percent) and 2-for-14 from three-point range (14.3 percent). According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks scored at a dismal rate of 66.1 points per 100 possessions. They also committed 15 turnovers, had 13 shots blocked, and got outrebounded 59-39.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta’s 58 points were the second fewest Chicago has allowed since the inception of the shot clock in 1954-55. The only time a team scored fewer points against the Bulls was when the Celtics managed only 57 points…in 1955.
In the second quarter, the Hawks shot 2-for-21 and scored only 5 points. That ties them for the third-lowest one-quarter output in league history during the shot clock era. The only worse one-quarter performances include the following:
The Cleveland Cavaliers scored only 4 points on 2-for-19 shooting in the second quarter of an 87-72 loss to the Celtics on November 28, 2000.
The Toronto Raptors also scored only 4 points — this time on 2-for-16 shooting — in the second quarter of an 86-60 loss to the Wizards on November 7, 2003. This happened despite the presence of All-Star Vince Carter.
The Los Angeles Clippers scored only 3 points in the second quarter of a 95-68 loss to the Lakers on December 14, 1999.
The Hawks scored only 20 points in the first half. ESPN Stats and Information reports that the NBA record for fewest points in a first half is 19. This lofty record was set by the Clippers against the Lakers in the game mentioned above. The fewest in either half is 16, a record set by the Hornets during the second half of an 89-67 loss to the Clippers on March 1, 2006. The Hornets accomplished this feat by scoring 8 points (4-for-20) in the third quarter and 8 points again (1-for-14) in the fourth.
Is that enough historical perspective for you?
You could argue the ball got rolling in the first quarter when the Bulls held the Hawks to 6-for-18 shooting and outscored them 26-15. But as ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell reports, this blowout began Monday morning at the Berto Center.
Said Taj Gibson: ”As soon as he called us (out) in the walk-through and his face, his tension, how he was just looking everybody in the eye just raging. He was raging this morning. He basically said it was his job to really focus and get us better. And he said that he felt that he’s been slipping because he understands that we need to play harder, we need to work harder, because every game in this league is tough to win. He really dug into guys. He looked at everybody straight eye to eye and guys understood that. Nobody was joking around in here today. Everybody was serious faced and everybody knew what we needed to do today.
“It was crazy how he was yelling at us with so much passion. And understanding what it takes to be the best. He said the East is so crazy, you can be high one moment and lose the next couple of games. And we understand that we need to stay on a high pace because we really need to do better because we don’t have Derrick [Rose] right now. We don’t have our superstar that helps us out in the fourth quarter, especially when we’re down a lot of points late. We have to push and understand that we need to help each other and get better.”
Added Joakim Noah: “Early this morning, Tibs was going crazy on us at shootaround. Just waking up early in the morning and having Tibs just screaming at you and screaming at you and screaming at you, we didn’t want that to happen to us again. We were ready for this one. We had the right mindset, played with the edge and we rebounded the ball really well. Everyone came in and stepped up.”
They sure did. The Hawks trailed by as many as 44 points and never have a chance.
Said Atlanta coach Larry Drew: ”This was very, very embarrassing. From where we were as a team to where we’re at right now, we have lost all sense of team on both ends of the floor. And why that’s happened I really can’t put my finger on it.”
The Bulls didn’t shoot well (41.8 percent), but they knocked down 43 percent of their threes (6-for-14), earned 33 free throws, scored 44 points in the paint and scored at a rate of 110.5 points per 100 possessions.
Carlos Boozer (20 points, 7-for-14, 13 rebounds) and Luol Deng (18 points, 7-for-9, 2 steals) did most of the heavy lifting on offense. Noah was only 2-for-11 from the field but ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds. Gibson came off the bench to contribute 8 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
But this game was all about the defense.