Bulls clinch a spot in the Play-In tournament despite loss
|Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 9:00 AM- -|
CHICAGO - It hasn't come easy, but to everyone's surprise, the Chicago Bulls (38-41) have clinched, at worst, the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, earning them a spot in the play-in tournament. Sure, some thanks need to be given to the Washington Wizards fading the past two weeks and the Orlando Magic losing to Cleveland to give the spot to the Bulls, but this team has been playing much better since acquiring Patrick Beverley.
Coming off an impressive come-from-behind win against the Grizzlies on Sunday, the Bulls were back at it on Tuesday at the United Center with a chance to do something special in front of the home fans. Not only were the Bulls playing for a postseason spot, but with the Atlanta Hawks (40-39) coming to town, a win could shake up the Eastern Conference as the Bulls could have moved into the eighth or ninth position.
With the Hawks missing Trae Young due to an illness, you had to like the Bulls chances to get a win, especially when you look at how good this team has been defensively lately. Instead, the defense let them down as Chicago resorted to their pre-all star break ways and dropped an ugly contest to the Hawks 123-105.
This game was ultimately decided in the first and fourth quarters, where the Bulls started slow and finished flat to give Atlanta the blowout win. It was in the first when the Bulls offense struggled to get into a rhythm, while their lazy defense led to some easy looks for Atlanta. That helped them build a 10-point lead after one quarter as the team was playing catchup from there.
The fourth quarter was the same story as the Bulls defense had a tough time defending the Hawks, who outscored them by eight in the final 12 points. Take those two quarters away, and the Bulls battled Atlanta to draw, even as the second and third quarters saw the teams play to a 54-54 tie. That included the only quarter that the Bulls won as they outscored the Hawks by two points in the third and started to gain momentum before fading at the end.
While most of the Bulls roster struggled, especially Alex Caruso, who finished with zero points, Zach Lavine was not one of the ones struggling as he led the way with 26 points. Granted, he may have struggled from distance, but the entire team did, and that has been a growing concern in most of their losses. Demar DeRozan continued to be the Robin to Lavine and shot 50% from the field to finish with 21 points. Things haven't been as smooth as last season, but DeRozan continues to show how vital he is to this team's success.
Joining those three was the final piece of the big three as Nikola Vucevic continued his excellent season with a 19-point 10 rebound showing. Entering the final four games of his contract, Vucevic will be a huge topic this offseason as the Bulls have a tough decision this offseason as to whether or not they will keep him.
With Caruso having such a terrible night from the field, Chicago needed other players to step up. Patrick Williams did that with 15 points off the bench, with Beverley adding 11 more for one of his better games with the Bulls. The problem was the lack of defense in this one for Chicago, as that ultimately was the difference.
With Young unavailable, many fans expected the Hawks to struggle as he is their engine that makes them tick. Despite his absence, Atlanta continued to show they have enough depth to play with anyone as Bogdan Bogdanovic tied Lavine for a game-high 26 points. He had the hot hand from beyond the arc as he knocked down five triples. That was half of the total for Atlanta as he put together an impressive season against Chicago.
Along with him came five other players in double figures, including three more starters to give the Hawks a balanced attack. Saddiq Bey gave Bogdanovic an excellent inside presence to finish with 18 points, as did Clint Capela, who picked up 13 points while adding 14 rebounds. You also had Dejounte Murray coming through with a solid game to finish with 17 points and adding nine assists.
Those four alone would have been enough to give the Bulls fits, but the Hawks had more than just those two, as their bench played a huge role too. Jalen Johnson has started to establish himself since arriving in Atlanta from the G-League and picked up 16 points off the bench. Onyeka Okongwu chipped in with 11 points, as those two accounted for 80% of the bench's total output in the win.
With a spot clinched in the play-in, it is all about seeding from here on out as the Bulls look to finish the season strong. Chicago is back on the court Wednesday as they travel to the Fiserv Forum to take on the best in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks.