Riding a three-game losing streak, the Atlanta Hawks looked to rebound against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Tuesday. They did not, literally and figuratively. The Hawks did not reach 50 points until the 6:37 mark of the third quarter and were out-rebounded 57-28 in a 100-85 loss to the Bulls. The lone bright spot for the Hawks was the warm reception former Bull Kyle Korver received from the Chicago fans prior to the start of the game. After that, it was as cold as the wintry Chicago air for the Hawks.
Atlanta’s lack of a defensive presence in the paint was obvious from the beginning of the game and the Bulls took full advantage all night. Paul Millsap, Gustavo Ayon, Demarre Carroll and the aging Elton Brand were no match for Taj Gibson (24 points, 12 rebounds) or Joakim Noah, who tallied 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists for his fourth career triple-double.
The Bulls played without Carlos Boozer, but clearly his services were not needed on this night. Six Bulls scored in double figures, including D.J. Augustin, who sparked the Bulls to a 25-point lead in the first half with four three-pointers. Mike Dunleavy Jr. chipped in 15 points and Jimmy Butler turned in a solid performance with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
The losses of Al Horford and now Pero Antic to injuries have made the Hawks a prime target for teams with a strong inside presence. In their four-game skid, the Hawks have also been punished in the lane by Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans and David West of the Indiana Pacers, who each scored over 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. If the Hawks wish to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, coach Mike Budenholzer needs Antic and his 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame standing in the paint. He looks to be out for two more weeks with a stress fracture in his ankle.
The Hawks fall to 25-25 for the season and find themselves half a game behind the Bulls for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. With upcoming games against the surging Toronto Raptors and the league-leading Pacers, the Hawks need to toughen up and find a way to stop the bleeding in the paint.