ATL 105 CHI 102: If you wondered why the Hawks traded for Mike Bibby right before last year’s trade deadline, now you know. If you wondered if the Hawks need to resign the veteran point guard after this season, you better know. Mike Bibby was up to his old tricks Tuesday night in Chicago, single handedly willing the Hawks to a victory over a young but competitive Bulls squad. Bibby poured in 31, a sizeable amount of which came from the outside deep down the stretch. Bibby nailed four of the Hawks last five baskets, all clutch jumpers which he created nearly by himself. Perhaps Bibby has slowed since his Sacramento days, but he still has that magic and veteran savvy this Hawks team not only craves but needs.
Anyone could see it in his eyes down the stretch: Bibby knew he was having an “on” night and he was conducting his teammates to simply move out of the way. Bibby put the final dagger in the Bulls with 18 seconds remaining, driving hard on Joakim Noah only to step back and drop a deuce right in front of the UF alum. Not only was the point guard rainbowing jumpers from outside, but he was also exceptional on the defensive side of the basketball. Bibby had five steals, three of which came from “laying in the weeds” as Bulls announcer Stacey King so aptly put it. Bibby baited two outlet passes and one pass across halfcourt, only to “jump” and intercept them. His halfcourt steal was the largest, as it occurred in the waning moments of the fourth when the Bulls could have cut the lead further or tied.
With the injuries to Horford and Williams, the Hawks needed a big night from their backcourt and they got it. It was clear from the start that both Bibby and Johnson wanted to assert themselves on the offensive end. Johnson proved relatively ineffective, finishing the night 5 for 18 and missing some wide open jumpers he typically can be relied upon to make. (Johnson, however, did well hounding Derrick Rose on the defensive end, who had a relatively quiet night when it was all said and done.) Bibby, on the other hand, got hot early and never stopped. He dropped 17 in the first half and kept the Hawks in the game as the Bulls started to pull away with a small lead in the middle of the second. Until the injuries to the Hawks’ key players heal, the team has no choice but to rely on heavy minutes from their backcourt and Josh Smith. Bibby will need more games like Tuesday for the Hawks to weather the current storm, but if his performance against the Bulls was any indication, perhaps the Hawks are equipped to ride out the current injury bug smoother than in year’s past.
PACHULIA CHIPS IN: Although the Georgian back-up had a brutal stretch in the middle of the fourth in which he blew an easy dunk, almost was charged with an offensive foul and then travelled (this all in two possessions), Pachulia for the most part played an outstanding game. The center dropped in an efficient 18 and 4 in 39 minutes and was the Hawks second leading scorer on the night. Aside from a rocky start to the season, Pachulia has been a relative model of consistency. Perhaps this wouldn’t seem surprising to the average fan, but Hawks fans definitely have to be pleased. While Horford’s return is imminent, Pachulia will continue to play a big role down the stretch and he must remain consistent.
GARDNER NOT CONVINCING: For the second game in the row back up guard Thomas Gardner earned playing time and for the second game in the row he put up an airball. This time it was from a three at the top of the key, which badly missed. Although replays showed that the ball was not tipped, it badly missed the rim by a solid two feet. Gardner partially redeemed himself by hitting one three in the game, but his comfort level is clearly not there. In his defense, however, there has been an extreme pressure to perform and Gardner has to know his window of opportunity is just a sliver wide.
PLAYING FOR THE BULLS?: Oh boy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Chicago Bulls television announcers Neil Funk and Stacey King won’t be petitioning for the team to bring in Flip Murray at the end of this season. The tagteam announcing duo kept asking “which team Murray was playing for” after Murray went on his typical mind-numbing rampage of poor shots, horrendous fouls, and turnovers. Murray finished the night 4 for 13 with a +/- of -13, including a crucial missed shot with 3:15 remaining in the fourth that he had no business taking. Ouch. Murray’s worst play of the day? His inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds on the clock, where he tried to loft the ball over Ben Gordon to Maurice Evans with the Hawks up 105-101 and the game seemingly in hand. Woody looked as if he was about to blow a gasket on the sideline after the errant pass and stormed off the court after the game.