Saturday night featured the Chicago Bulls welcoming the Atlanta Hawks to the United Center for their first match-up of the season. The Bulls toughed it out and finished strong to attain the 91-84 win.
Just when it seemed Chicago would have everyone healthy and ready to play, with the exception of Derrick Rose of course, Carlos Boozer sat out with a sore right knee. Taj Gibson started in his place.
The Bulls got the ball moving well early on in the first quarter, giving them the lead over Atlanta, but the Hawks stayed in the game. The score remained relatively close until the last two minutes of the period. Gibson and Nazr Mohammed combined for an 8-2 run to obtain the eight-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Chicago maintained the lead for the remainder of the first half, but Atlanta kept creeping up on the lead. D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy combined to score 14 points in the second quarter, and their offense was a contributing factor in keeping the lead. However, turnovers and fouls allowed the Hawks to cut what was once a ten-point lead to two. Former Bull Kyle Korver made a three-pointer with two seconds left in the half, but Luol Deng retaliated with a buzzer-beating shot from halfcourt to bring the lead back up, 50-45.
Atlanta’s late second quarter run allowed for the field goal shooting to even out with the Bulls. At halftime, each team took 39 shots. Chicago fared slightly better by connecting on 18 of the 39 attempts compared to the Hawks’ 17 made shots. What really gave the Bulls an advantage, though, were fast break points and rebounds. The Bulls had the advantage in rebounds (24-17) and fast break points (10-2).
It remained a tight game in the third quarter, as both teams struggled to find their offense. Chicago’s offense, in particular, became stagnant, and it showed in their 17-point period. They improved on this in the final period though. Dunleavy really got going in the fourth, when he scored 11 of his 20 points. The Bulls also worked the passing lanes and the glass well, which also helped leave the Hawks scoreless for the nearly the last three minutes of the game.
In addition to Dunleavy’s 20-point performance, the starting frontcourt for Chicago all posted double-doubles: Deng had 17 points and 11 rebounds while Gibson and Noah each added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bulls, now 14-18, have some time off before they go back to work. They will be back at the United Center on Tuesday, Jan. 7 to face the Phoenix Suns at 7 p.m. central.