All eyes were on the reigning NBA MVP to save the day. And why wouldn’t they be?
With Derrick Rose leading a furious Chicago Bulls comeback against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, everyone expected him to take the final shot in the waning seconds. Instead, it was Luol Deng who upset the Hawks, as he cut backdoor off an oft-practiced inbounds play to hit the game-winning layup with 3.7 seconds left to lift the Bulls to a 76-74 victory at the United Center.
D. Rose and the Bulls started Tuesday’s contest seemingly fatigued, as they missed 14 consecutive second-quarter shots and went scoreless for eight minutes, shooting 2-for-21 in the period, to narrowly avoid setting franchise lows for points and field goals in a half. Atlanta led 38-26 at halftime as Chicago scored just three points more than the club’s fewest points recorded in a half, set on April 10, 1999, against the Miami Heat. The MVP took over in the fourth to rally his team from a 19-point deficit, scoring 11 points early in the final period, including three 3-pointers. Behind his patented crossover, Rose’s layup with 57.8 seconds left gave Chicago their first lead at 72-71. Atlanta’s high-flying forward Josh Smith countered D. Rose’s spectacular play with an alley-hoop to push the Hawks ahead, but ATL’s point guard Jeff Teague missed two crucial free throws with 17.5 seconds to go, to put Chicago away. Teague looked to redeem himself on the opposite end, but to no avail. Rose drove passed him and powered home a layup over the outstretched arm of Smith -who blocked Rose twice in the quarter- with 9.9 remaining to put the Bulls up 74-73. Deng, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth, got called for a foul on the Hawks’ ensuing inbounds play, tripping as he fought over an Al Horford screen. But Horford split a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds left, tying the score at 74, and giving Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau an opportunity to draw up the final play.
Coming out of a timeout, Rose -who Thibodeau later stated was the first option- set a back screen for Deng, who cut back door along the baseline and accepted a pass from Joakim Noah (two points, four rebounds) to score the game-winner with 3.7 left, in the Bulls improbable 76-74 comeback over the Hawks. Joe Johnson’s 3-pointer at the other end drew air as the buzzer rang out at the United Center. Rose finished with a game-high 30 points, seven assists and a block in the Bulls win.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson finished 3-of-17 from the field for 10 points and four rebounds for Atlanta. As one of his worst outings, his dismal performance on Tuesday is tied for his worst shooting effort, percentage-wise, in a game in which he attempted at least 15 field goals. Horford led the Hawks with 16 points, Smith scored a double-double in 15 points and 14 rebounds and Marvin Williams added 14 points, as Atlanta shot just 35 percent from the floor but held Chicago to 34 percent.
After handing Miami their first loss on the season on Monday, Atlanta was trying to knock off one of last season’s Eastern Conference finalists for the second straight night. The Hawks played in a back-to-back game for the third time in the first 10 days of the season and for the fourth time in five nights -all games in different cities- so perhaps it’s not surprising they ran out of gas down the stretch on Tuesday. They have a much needed day off on Wednesday before opening a home stretch of three games in three nights, starting with the Heat on Thursday and ending in a rematch against the Bulls.
Chicago has won four straight and their 5-1 start is the franchise best since opening 12-0 during the 1996-97 season. Newly acquired shooting guard Rip Hamilton, sat out his second straight game with a strained groin injury. In this truncated season, the Bulls will need their starters to be healthy if they expect to return to the Eastern Conference finals. They start a three-game road trip in four nights on Wednesday in Detroit against former Bulls star Ben Gordon and the Pistons.