With Derrick Rose having a big fourth quarter for the Chicago Bulls, everyone expected the reigning NBA MVP to take the final shot with the score tied. Instead, it was Luol Deng who got the game-winner in the closing seconds.
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Deng’s layup with 3.7 seconds left lifted the Bulls to a 76-74 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
Rose scored 17 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Bulls from a 19-point deficit. Coming out of a timeout, Deng cut along the baseline and took a feed from Joakim Noah to put Chicago ahead.
”At the end of practice, we always run (the play),” Deng said. ”(Joakim) made a great pass. We had a feeling both of (the defenders) would go with Derrick.”
Turns out the play was designed for Rose after all.
”Obviously, we’re trying to get it to Derrick,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”They did a good job taking the first and second option away. Derrick set a great screen, (Noah) made a great pass and Luol made a great cut.”
The play caught the Hawks off guard as they were anticipating Rose to get the last shot.
”We all assumed that the ball was coming back to Rose,” Atlanta’s Al Horford said. ”We were going to come and trap. That was a great play by their coach designed to take the pressure from Rose and hit Deng on the back. We didn’t expect that at all.”
Joe Johnson shot an airball at the buzzer, giving the Bulls the win.
Deng finished with 21 points for the Bulls and scored eight over the last four minutes after Atlanta re-established a lead.
”You can’t say enough about Luol,” Thibodeau said. ”He does everything.”
Rose missed a runner with 21 seconds left, but Atlanta’s Jeff Teague missed two free throws. Rose then drove past Teague and scored over the Hawks’ Josh Smith with 9.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up 74-73.
Horford, who led the Hawks with 16 points, was fouled when Deng ran into him near the top of the key. Horford split two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining, tying the score and setting up Deng’s heroics.
”We stopped defending with the intensity that we did in the first three quarters,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”We didn’t make our free throws going down the stretch. If you don’t make your free throws on the road you can’t expect to win.”
Marvin Williams added 14 points and Josh Smith had 13 for Atlanta, which shot just 35 percent from the floor but held Chicago to 34 percent.
The Bulls have won four straight and their 5-1 start is their best since opening 12-0 in 1996-97.
Rose scored 11 points early in the fourth, including three 3-pointers. His pullup 3 cut Atlanta’s lead to two with 8:15 to play and capped the Bulls’ 20-3 run.
”We were right there with them,” Horford said. ”We dominated for most of the game. Just Derrick Rose happened.”
Two minutes later, Rose passed to Deng for a 3 in the corner, evening the score at 62 for the game’s first tie.
”I was saying something the whole game, cursing and everything,” Rose said when asked if he said anything between the third and fourth quarters to fire his team up. ”We got things together at the right time.”
Johnson answered with a 3 of his own to spark a six-point Atlanta run. Chicago closed the gap to one on a series of free throws by Deng, setting up the stretch run.
The Bulls had won three straight coming in and were coming off a 40-point rout of Memphis on Sunday but didn’t lead until Rose’s spectacular crossover move and layup to put Chicago up 72-71 with 57.9 seconds to play.
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 wasn’t surprising that they faltered down the stretch.
”It was disappointing the way we started the game,” Thibodeau said. ”We played a low energy game. They played great and we caught a break (because) this was the second night for them in a back to back.”
Chicago shot 2 for 21 in the second period and went more than 8 minutes without a field goal during one stretch, missing 14 straight shots.
Atlanta led 38-26 at halftime as Chicago scored just three points more than its franchise record for fewest points in a half, set on April 10, 1999, against Miami.
After winning 62 games last season, the Bulls aren’t satisfied with ugly wins this time around.
”A win is a win and it’s hard to win in this league,” Rose said. ”But we know we’re 10 times better than what we showed out there. I felt bad for our fans to see us play that bad.”
NOTES: Ronnie Brewer started in place of Richard Hamilton, who sat out his second straight game with a strained left groin. Hamilton was a game-time scratch from the starting lineup. . Chicago’s C.J. Watson missed the game with a strained left elbow suffered on Sunday. Watson is listed as day-to-day by the team but was seen before the game with his arm in a sling. . Atlanta handed Miami its first loss on Monday and was trying to knock off one of last season’s Eastern Conference finalists for the second straight night. . After a day off on Wednesday, the Hawks open a stretch of three games in three nights at home, starting with a matchup against Miami on Thursday. The last game of the stretch is against the Bulls.