As a captain for the second year, Luol Deng has vowed to be more vocal this season.
His plea Tuesday night came through loud and clear.
"C'mon guys!" Deng shouted to his teammates after Hawks big man Al Horford beat Joakim Noah downcourt yet again to draw a foul. "Hustle back!"
Even playing without the injured Josh Smith, undefeated Atlanta won its sixth straight by playing a far more physical and athletic game than the Bulls, who succumbed 113-108.
"Our defense was terrible," Deng said. "We didn't do anything in transition. Guys didn't get back. We didn't help each other."
That didn't even rate as the strongest indictment of the night. Andres Nocioni, strong off the bench with 20 points and four three-pointers, dared mention last season's train wreck.
"We're doing the same things as last year," Nocioni said. "That's not good. We need to grow up."
Horford absolutely dominated a matchup with old college teammate Joakim Noah, who drew his first start this season. The Hawks big man finished with a career-high 27 points, 17 rebounds and a career-high six blocks.
Mike Bibby's 22 points included four three-pointers as the Hawks overcame an off shooting night by Joe Johnson. Averaging 25.2 points entering the game, Johnson scored 17 on 4-for-16 shooting.
The solid half-court defense on Johnson made the shoddy transition defense all the more galling.
"It's not a mix-up because we work on transition defense all the time," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We just weren't getting back. We have to find ways to help them understand the importance of it."
The Bulls dressed 10 players for the second straight game as Drew Gooden missed his second game with a sore right ankle and Kirk Hinrich underwent thumb surgery earlier in the day.
The Hawks built a 13-point lead in the third quarter before the Bulls clawed back on six straight points from Deng. These included a fast-break dunk off a no-look pass from Thabo Sefolosha as the Bulls pulled to within 85-83.
After Marvin Williams hit two free throws, Deng committed back-to-back turnovers. Bibby converted each into a three-pointer, draining one from each corner for a 10-point Hawks lead.
"I can't have those turnovers at that time," Deng said. "I was trying to be aggressive but made the wrong play. We've been in the league for a while, the core, and we can't have plays like that."
Del Negro pulled out all the stops with 3 minutes 52 seconds remaining, sending out a lineup of Sefolosha, Deng, Nocioni, Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose after a timeout.
Maurice Evans, who scored 17 off the bench, took advantage of wide-open looks off kickouts because the smallish lineup collapsed on Horford and drained back-to-back three-pointers to seal matters.
Rose shook off pulling a muscle in his back during the first quarter to play 42 minutes and notch his first double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
"We lost on the fast break," Nocioni said. "We knew about that before the game. I don't know why we didn't figure that out during the game."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times