Game Recap: Bulls 98, Hawks 77

The Bulls don’t lose two games in a row. They just don’t.

That’s one of the greatest qualities of this team. They respond so well after a loss. The focus narrows and everybody rededicates themselves to winning.

You could see it in the way the Bulls rebounded the basketball. After two straight sub-par (read that: pathetic) rebounding efforts, Chicago dominated the boards 45-36, which included a 13-8 edge in offensive rebounds.

The Bulls also took care of the rock, committing only 8 turnovers and allowing the Hawks only 9 points off those miscues. They shared the ball as usual — compiling 26 assists on 38 made field goals — and shot lights out from three-point range (9-for-16).

There was defense too, as the Bulls held Atlanta to 40 percent shooting (29 percent on threes) and a mere 9 free throw attempts. And did I mention they outscored the Hawks 42-30 in the paint.

And so, as the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson pointed out, “the Bulls ran their streak of avoiding consecutive regular-season losses to 84 games. That tied the 1997-99 Pacers for third all-time. The NBA record is the 1997-99 Jazz’s 95.”

Said Carlos Boozer: “We just hate losing. We all felt we played horrible [against the Nuggets]. We all felt we could give so much more to the team. Everybody brought great intensity and focus. We had a certain edge. I think that speaks to our character the way we responded.”

In many ways, this was the opposite of Monday’s loss to Denver. In that game, the Bulls got off to a quick start before getting outworked by the Nuggets. Last night, Atlanta sprinted out to a 13-5 lead before Chicago took over.

Oddly, the Hawks forced the Bulls to take outside shots. Chicago attempted 35 shots from 15 feet and in while launching 41 shots from 16 feet and beyond. The plan both worked and didn’t work. The Bulls were dreadful on “long twos” (that is, shots from 16-23 feet), going 7-for-25, which is a 28 percent rate of accuracy. But, as noted, they drilled 9 of their 16 three-point field goals, including seven in a row at one point.

Said Atlanta’s Jeff Teague: “The last couple of games, they beat us in the paint, so we focused on that. But they came out and made shots. Everybody was hitting shots, from the point guards to the forwards. Not much you can do about that.”

The Hawks certainly couldn’t, not last night, considering they were playing their fifth game in six days. That would be a rough stretch for any team in the league. Frankly, by the time the second quarter was underway, the Hawks looked spent. And the Bulls were geared to avenge that embarrassing home loss to the Nuggets.

The result: a 21-point blowout.

Added Atlanta’s Josh Smith: “We couldn’t get anything going. We were trying to create some kind of energy, some kind of momentum. It was hard to generate.”

The Bulls generated energy. They got it from Luol Deng (22 points, 8-for-14, +16) and Carlos Boozer (20 points, 8-for-13, 9 rebounds). They got it from the Bench Mob (37 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists), particularly Taj Gibson (19 points, 8-for-12, 6 boards). Everybody was bringing it.

No wonder they have the best record in the league (41-11) despite losing a staggering 85 games to injury. By contrast, they lost 61 games to injury all last season.

The team’s depth helps. So does the coaching. Everybody knows their role. The players stick together. Everybody has everybody else’s back.

Of course, there’s no denying the Bulls still need Derrick Rose back, even if they’ve won six of the eight games he’s missed with a groin injury. And, to a lesser extent, they need Rip Hamilton back too. Depth and effort will bring regular season wins. The Bulls proved that last season and this season.

To win in the playoffs, though, the Bulls will need a full and reasonably healthy roster.

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