Bulls 94, Hawks 76: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng Drive Bulls To Runaway Victory

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Bulls 94, Hawks 76: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng Drive Bulls To Runaway Victory

All you need to know about Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was said shortly into his press conference following the Bulls' dominating second half en route to a 94-76 win.

"I liked our defense in the second half. I didn't like the last 1:16."

It was with 1:16 left in the game and a commanding 22-point lead that Thibodeau emptied his bench and put Brian Scalabrine, Rasual Butler, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik and C.J. Watson into the game. Anyone who doesn't know Thibodeau might read that quote as sarcasm, but Chicago's relentless coach was quite serious. Others might focus on the Bulls' 22:34 of absolutely wilting defense in the second half, or the stunning performance of Derrick Rose (34 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds), who despite a poor shooting night, began attacking the basket and took over as few in the game can. Not "Thibs", who is about as tenacious and relentless a coach as you'll find. Game in hand and confetti starting to fall, this man was still coaching game 7.

If there is an extension of Thibodeau on this Bulls team, it would have to be Luol Deng. Deng nearly had a triple-double in the Bulls 94-76 win, with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. He played 40 minutes after being a game-time decision with a charlie horse from hell. Thibs seldom gushes, but with Deng it seems he can't help himself.

"I thought Luol was tremendous, you couldn't ask for anything more. He's the glue of the team. In my opinion he's an all-league defender. He guards everybody."

"I like the way he leads. He's a great leader."

Doesn't get much more definitive than that. The Bulls would be nowhere without Rose, and Thibs would be the first to say so, but the Bulls are a team with a shot to go deep in the playoffs because of Lu, who does all the cliched little things a basketball team needs to win. It says a lot to both teammates and fans that he played through injury tonight, and in city well-versed in the toughness of it's players, he is on the verge of coveted "loved" status in Chicago.

As has been the case for several weeks, the Bulls bench played outstanding basketball. Thibs ensured as much when he put Kurt Thomas in with the starters, allowing the unchanged Bulls bench to ride its month-long hot streak.Yet another in a string of good decisions that has Thibodeau near the top of the Coach of The Year projections along with Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins.

If you've watched the Bulls at the United Center this year, you know the rest of the story: The defense cranked up the intensity, Derrick Rose took over and the Bulls got solid contributions across the board. Chicago held Atlanta to 77 points, lowering its points allowed average over the last nine games to 80.9. Goodness. Gracious.

A great win for the Bulls, but one they must quickly move past. The Utah Jazz come to town Saturday night, and with a win the Bulls can tie the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference. On a night when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the 1991 team will be on hand as the Bulls honor the 20th anniversary of the franchise's first Championship, it seems fitting that this year's team has a chance to take hold of first place in front of them.

On a day filled with bad news both inside and out of the sports world, it's nice to know there's still some poetry in motion.

***

Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks

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Boozer, Deng Injury Update

Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson reports that Carlos Boozer (ankle) is inactive against the Atlanta Hawks, however Luol Deng is a gametime decision with a deep thigh bruise.

Tom Thibodeau will start Kurt Thomas in lieu of Boozer, citing Thomas’ excellent play in the starting lineup during Joakim Noah’s absence and not wanting to disrupt Taj Gibson’s chemistry with the second unit.

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Chicago Bulls Vs. Atlanta Hawks: Back Home And Looking For Revenge

When last we saw the Atlanta Hawks, they were celebrating a shocking 17 point comeback win against the Bulls. Derrick Rose played his worst half of professional basketball, Al Horford absolutely owned the matchup against former Florida Gator teammate Joakim Noah and most personally frustrating, Hawks announcer Bob Rathbun ran the gamut of homerism, calling Horford "Al my pal!", the Hawks "The fellas!" and continually screaming for fouls against the Bulls and wishing them ill will if not outright harm. Color man and former NBA superstar Dominique Williams tried to reign him in at times, but Rathbun would have none of it. I am all for local announcers showing support for their teams, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Holman will be on my mind often tonight as the Bulls look to avenge what was their most shocking loss of the season, an 83-80 loss that they led up until the last seconds. Derrick Rose's ability to respond to adversity has been well-documented here before, and you just know that second half in Atlanta (1-for-11 field goals, six turnovers) still sticks in his craw.

The complexion of this game will be different as Atlanta will have Josh Smith back from injury, and the Bulls will be without Carlos Boozer, who sprained his ankle in the win over Charlotte on Wednesday. While the injury looked quite scary when it happened, coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday that Boozer could be out "anywhere from a couple days to a week." Taj Gibson is expected to start in his place, a role he knows very well with Boozer missing more than 20 games already this year.

Hawks To Watch For

As mentioned above, Al Horford simply went off against against the Bulls in Atlanta, to the tune of 31 points and 16 rebounds. Call it hyperbole if you will, but Horford almost single-handedly willed the Hawks comeback. Kirk Hinrich and his renowned on-the-ball defense shut down MVP candidate Derrick Rose last time out. Josh Smith will be back out on the floor, which means the Hawks have another athletic defender to protect the rim. Not that it's ever a good thing for Boozer to be injured, but the idea of him against Smith conjures the images of a block montage of the highest order.

Bulls To Watch For

Derrick Rose, back at home and supremely motivated, will be amped for this game. Taj Gibson will see his first extended minutes in a few weeks, as he was fighting an ankle sprain while the Bulls incorporated Noah and Asik into the rotation. Gibson played extremely well against Charlotte, and always brings solid defense, offensive rebounding, and a dependable 12 to 15 foot jumpshot. Luol Deng suffered a deep thigh bruise against the Bobcats, and while he will definitely play, it would not be surprising to see extended minutes for Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. Also, with Boozer out, expect Rasual Butler to be active for the first time since joining the Bulls.

***

Strangely, since the Bulls lost that heartbreaker in Atlanta, they have won four straight, while Atlanta went on to lose its next three contests. Chicago returns home for its first of three straight at the United Center, looking to improve their 27-4 home record. Only 1.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for the top seed in the East, every game is important as the NBA cruises into the stretch run.

Tip-off is at 7:00 p.m. CST, Comcast Sports Net - Chicago has the call.

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