Hawks' February woes continue with home loss to Bulls
FEB 25, 2014 11:36p ET
1. Let's break character here and do a tit-for-tat breakdown of the final three minutes
For the first 45 minutes, it was your typical mid-winter outing between two middling clubs racked by injuries.
But things went up a few notches in the final 171 seconds -- so much that it's still hard to fathom how it all went down.
**With the Bulls (30-26) holding a 99-98 lead with three minutes remaining, a Taj Gibson missed jumper quickly evolved into a Hawks fast break, with Jeff Teague (26 points, seven assists) feeding DeMarre Carroll for a slashing layup.
**After a timeout, the Bulls' Mike Dunleavy drove through the right side of the lane and nailed a running jumper off the high glass.
**On the Hawks' ensuing possession, and with the shot clock counting down to zero, Carroll buried a high-arcing three- pointer from the right side, boosting Atlanta's lead to two (103-101).
**With the Philips crowd erupting in approval of Carroll's last-gasp triple, the stage was seemingly set for a harrowing Hawks victory.
However, with Chicago getting little penetration off the dribble, guard Kirk Hinrich had no choice but to heave a 22-footer from the left side. While defending the shot, the Hawks' Carroll jumped horizontally at Hinrich ... and into the shooter's arms.
The referee blew the whistle on the shot that never was, right in front of Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had an animated reaction to the call (running away in disgust).
With the lucky break, Hinrich made all three free throws, putting the Bulls back on top (104-103).
In the post-game media address, Budenholzer reticently acknowledged the referees' "good call" on the Carroll foul. But make no mistake, Chicago had been bailed out of a tenuous possession.
**After Carroll corralled Mike Scott's missed three-pointer with roughly 32 seconds left, Budenholzer sprinted past the half-court line and onto the court -- during live action -- to signal a timeout.
In one respect, the refs could have flagged Budenholzer with a technical, for venturing far out of the coach's box.
Viewed another way, Budenholzer's impetuousness precluded a made three-pointer from Scott -- which was nullified by the timeout request.
Amid all the craziness, the Hawks still had the ball and an opportunity to win the game with 28.4 seconds left.
**That quest was thwarted by Teague's turnover flurry in the waning seconds -- first getting stripped by Hinrich and then stepping out of bounds on a possession that no longer included a shot clock.
Replays were inconclusive of whether Teague's heels touched the baseline; but then again, the point guard didn't get much help from his teammates on the drive, in terms of few cutters occupying the lane.
**Fast forward to the 0:11 mark: With Atlanta trailing by three, Scott fielded an inbounds pass and squared to take a potential game-tying jumper from long distance.
But Bulls forward Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 boards, three steals) stripped the ball from Scott -- courtesy of an audible smack on the shooter's left arm.
When asked if he thought Scott was fouled on that 23-footer, Budenholzer succinctly replied, "Yes, I do."
Budenholzer wasn't the only one to provide a terse and somewhat tormented response to the same question.
"(The refs) made a call, and you've got to live with it," said Carroll, who tallied 13 points and four rebounds in 34 minutes.
Hence, with the ball flailing through the air and no whistle blown on the triple attempt, Hinrich put the game on ice with one more free throw, clinching the Bulls' four-point victory.
"It was just one of those games that came down to the final play (Scott's miss) -- they got the calls and we didn't," lamented Carroll, with a sigh.
2. The undermanned Hawks don't have a lot of time to ponder their February foibles
Only seven Hawks (Carroll, Teague, Scott, Shelvin Mack, Louis Williams, Elton Brand, Kyle Korver) registered more than three minutes of court time against the Bulls -- reflecting Atlanta's injury woes (more on that later).
To be fair, though, only seven Bulls logged more than six minutes; so maybe these teams were destined for one another on the schedule.
With no Paul Millsap, Pero Antic or Gustavo Ayon fortifying the frontcourt, the Hawks (2-9 in February) were obligated to play "small ball" against the Bulls, attempting 33 triples (making 14). They also had to lean on Brand, who collected seven points and 13 boards in 42 minutes.
The relevance here: Counting Brand's 43-minute stint against the Knicks on Saturday, the 34-year-old hadn't logged 85 total minutes over consecutive games in three seasons (January 2011).
Up next for Atlanta: A six-game road trip that covers Boston, Phoenix, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Utah.
3. One could construct a viable playoff team out of the Hawks and Bulls who didn't play on Tuesday
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Paul Millsap
PF: Al Horford
C: Pero Antic
Bench: Gustavo Ayon, Dennis Schroder, John Jenkins
Obviously, it's not imperative for NBA teams to be at full strength on a random Tuesday in late Feburary.
But given the season-ending injuries to Rose and Horford -- the franchise faces for Chicago and Atlanta -- it's a minor miracle both clubs have been in the playoff discussion from Day 1.
4. The Hawks are still in great shape to make the playoffs
Atlanta (26-30) has dropped nine of 10 outings and doesn't have a winning streak longer than three games all year; and yet, the Hawks hold a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Pistons (23-34) for the No. 8 seed in the East.
To put that advantage into perspective, even if the Hawks went 10-16 in their final 26 games, the Pistons would have to post a 13-12 record down the stretch ... just to force a tie by season's end.
And that hypothetical still wouldn't matter, if Detroit loses to Atlanta on April 8 (a weather makeup from late January) -- since the Hawks would own the head-to-head tiebreaker (3-1).
Here's a general scope of the four outside-looking-in contenders chasing the Hawks for the No. 8 seed (Feb. 26-April 16):
Pistons (23-34): 25 games left (9 home/16 road)
Cavaliers (22-36): 24 games left (12 home/12 road)
Knicks (21-36): 25 games left (10 home/15 road)
Celtics (19-39): 24 games left (13 home/11 road)
The notion that Boston garners mention above reveals just how porous the East has been this season. Dreadful, if you will.
One more thing: The Celtics, who are closer to the NBA's worst record (Milwaukee -- 11-45 entering Tuesday) than the East playoffs, already have five separate losing streaks of four or more games.
When's the last time a playoff contender could say that?