Through three quarters of a taut game and sporadically sloppy Bulls performance Sunday afternoon, Scott Skiles acted as mellow as a soft-rock radio station.
"I wanted to give our guys time to get into the game," the coach explained. "We tried to sub early and often just because of fatigue. I didn't want to overreact to anything because I felt at some point in the game we would turn it up. And we did."
Indeed, 24 hours after dropping an emotional game, the Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 105-97 victory over the lowly Hawks at Philips Arena.
Luol Deng scored 11 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter and Chris Duhon and Tyrus Thomas contributed key plays in a game-changing 10-2 run to help ease the sting of Saturday's loss to the Cavaliers.
This helped too: The Bulls pulled to within a half-game of the Cavaliers for the No. 2 seed after Cleveland's unexpected loss in Boston. The Bulls have now won 11 straight against Atlanta and watched their potential first-round playoff opponent change yet again with the Heat's loss and the Wizards' victory.
Even without Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson, this one had all the makings of the classic "trap" game.
Beyond the emotional hangover, overtime minutes and travel problems offered excuses for fatigue. Throw in the oddity of back-to-back afternoon games, and you know why Skiles addressed his team beforehand about maintaining focus.
Almost on cue, though, the Bulls sleepwalked through a first half in which they allowed way too much dribble penetration, 54 percent shooting and a whopping 56 points.
The Bulls quickly erased their four-point halftime deficit, though.
Then in the fourth, Duhon snapped an 80-80 tie with a steal off Tyronn Lue for a breakaway layup. Thomas followed with a fast-break dunk. Deng scored in the lane with a lefty runner. Thomas made a steal and threw down a poster-ready breakaway jam.
By the time Kirk Hinrich drained a jumper to bring a smile to the face of his college coach, Roy Williams, a surprise attendee, the Bulls had a 10-2 run and control.
"We were a little tired," Deng said. "But P.J. [Brown] said this one was for the young guys to bring energy."
Thomas obliged, turning in his second straight impressive fourth-quarter effort. That allowed Skiles to play a banged-up Ben Wallace, experiencing normal wear and tear, only six fourth-quarter minutes on a day the coach contemplated resting his center the entire fourth.
Thomas tallied seven of his eight points and two of his three blocks down the stretch. With the rookie forward coming off a career-high 39 minutes, even Skiles wondered what effort he would bring.
But mirroring the Bulls, Thomas overcame a slow start to also tally eight rebounds and three assists.
"My fourth quarter has always been my best," Thomas said. "But I didn't play as well as I wanted to play."
Saturday's overtime loss to the Cavs ensured the Bulls won't meet their goal of single-digit home losses. But another preseason target, a 50-win season, remains a possibility.
"We just have to keep taking care of our business," Deng said.