The Bulls did a better job of defending assistant coach Ron Adams' authority than the Hawks.
After voting to make Joakim Noah sit for a second game as punishment for his tirade against Adams on Friday, the Bulls repeatedly were burned in transition defense and fell meekly 105-84 Sunday at Philips Arena.
Not even Luol Deng's 28 points in his return from missing three games with left Achilles' tendinitis could stop the Bulls from blowing a chance to pull within one game of eighth-seeded Atlanta in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Bulls, who trailed by 19 in the first quarter and 24 at their largest deficit, hadn't lost to Atlanta since April 9, 2004, a span of 12 games.
"Our lack of energy and physical play in the first half really opened the gates for them," interim coach Jim Boylan said. "It let them get out and run to a lot of transition baskets. We just kind of let them have their way."
Indeed, the Hawks looked like they were conducting a layup drill in shooting 72.7 percent in the first quarter, during which they had an 11-0 edge in fast-break points.
Marvin Williams blocked Kirk Hinrich's shot and dunked on Andres Nocioni at the other end for a three-point play, one of six conventional three-point plays for the Hawks in the first half alone.
Shortly thereafter, a turnover by Hinrich, who was treated for back spasms afterward, led to an Al Horford dunk to cap the Hawks' 13-0 first-quarter run.
In one stretch over the first and second quarters, the Hawks made an astonishing 17 of 18 shots.
"We were making crucial judgment errors in transition," Boylan said. "One of the worst things you can do in transition is run up to the ball around the halfcourt area. We did that several times."
Joe Johnson scored the Hawks' first 10 points, 19 in the first quarter and settled for 37 overall, with six assists.
When the Bulls made their inevitable run, pulling within 84-72 with 9 minutes 1 second remaining, Johnson coolly drained a jumper over Thabo Sefolosha, who logged over eight minutes more playing time than starter Chris Duhon.
That started a personal 7-0 run by Johnson, who drained a two- and three-pointer around a Ben Gordon miss.
"From the opening tip, we were too casual with everything, especially defensively," Deng said. "We kind of went through the motions."
Boylan brought Deng off the bench midway through the first quarter to better monitor his minutes. He got his points in an efficient 30 minutes on 10-for-15 shooting.
"When I first came in, it was a little tight," Deng said. "As the game went on, it felt better. I wasn't able to get the lift I wanted on some of the plays."
The loss ensured the Bulls will finish the first half with a sub-.500 record. At 14-21, the best they can finish is 20-21. And a six-game winning streak doesn't appear to be around the corner.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times