Must-win games don't typically land on NBA schedules in October. And though no member of the Bulls' organization labeled Friday's game as such, an underlying knowledge that the team must rebound from its season-opening debacle pervaded the proceedings.
Win, and the optimism could return. Lose, and the chat rooms and talk-radio phone lines would continue calling for firings and trades.
In a pulsating, 100-94 victory over Atlanta at the United Center, the Bulls accomplished the former.
But because they blew a 16-point lead and needed late-game heroics from Scottie Pippen to beat a bottom-feeder, the latter dynamic still might exist.
Tyson Chandler returned from a sore back to deliver an electrifying performance, finishing with 13 points and tying his career high in rebounds with 22.
Eddy Curry rebounded from a poor opener and a virus to feed off Chandler's energy and score a team-high 22 points, including a resounding dunk over Theo Ratliff with 1 minute 1 second left for a 94-90 lead.
Pippen did a little of everything, finishing with 12 points and taking a huge charge from Dion Glover late that set up Curry's dunk.
Pippen's drive and finger roll over Ratliff with 1:35 left broke a 90-90 tie and kick-started an 8-0 run that Kendall Gill capped with four straight points.
"Pip changed the game for us with his presence and poise," coach Bill Cartwright said.
Cartwright reverted to riding veterans down the stretch, benching Jamal Crawford for all but four minutes in the second half as Pippen played point guard the entire fourth quarter.
"He wasn't playing well," said Cartwright, who added that Crawford's defense on Jason Terry was poor.
"He didn't say anything to me," Crawford snapped. "No idea why. But I've been through so much [stuff] since I've been here, it doesn't even faze me anymore. He did the same thing in the preseason. Whatever.
"Defensive thing, huh? Well, that's on him. But I'm glad we won."
Marcus Fizer played just four minutes. Lonny Baxter, after starting the first game, didn't play. Chandler rendered them superfluous.
"We battled," Chandler said. "If we compete like that, we'll be fine. I'm stiff, but you just have to play. We needed this."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times