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.”