By Mike McGraw
Following Saturday’s ugly loss to Phoenix, which had been 2-17 on the road, Bulls coach tom Thibodeau mentioned that it’s his job to get his team in the right frame of mind to play a game.
It appears he struck gold.
The Bulls set a franchise record for fewest points allowed during the regular season, smashing the Atlanta Hawks 97-58 on Monday night at the United Center.
The Hawks scored just 20 points in the first half, 1 off the all-time NBA low set by the Clippers against the Lakers in 1999. They shot 20.5 percent from the field in the first half (another Bulls record) and scored 5 points in the second quarter (tying a team mark).
After the game, Joakim Noah explained what helped put the Bulls in the proper mindset.
“Thibs was going crazy on us at shootaround,” Noah said. “Just waking up early in the morning and having Thibs just screaming at you and screaming at you and screaming at you — we didn’t want that to happen again. We were ready for this one.
“What was he screaming about? That we were 10-10 at home … with a lot of F-bombs. A lot of F-bombs this morning, right?”
He said that last one in the direction of Rip Hamilton, who replied with an, “All day.”
“Grown men getting cursed at,” Noah added with a smile. “I think our mindset was good tonight. Everybody was on edge. Everybody was focused from the start.”
The Hawks (21-16) actually led 13-12 midway through the first quarter after ex-Bulls forward Kyle Korver knocked down a couple of free throws. From there, the Bulls (21-15) went on a 31-4 run and opened their lead at halftime was an astonishing 48-20.
During the third quarter, Kirk Hinrich drove the baseline and was sent flying into the basket support by Atlanta’s Devin Harris. Hinrich miraculously made the shot, but officials waved it off, saying Hamilton set an illegal screen.
Thibodeau argued that Hamilton actually was posting up, not setting a screen. The basket was waved off, but Harris was given a flagrant foul. The Hawks also picked up 2 technicals.
“This was very, very embarrassing,” Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. “We have lost our sense of being a team. Why that has happened, I really can’t put my finger on it.”
Carlos Boozer led the way with 20 points and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double in the last nine games. Luol Deng added 18 points, while Noah grabbed 16 rebounds.
During many of their home losses, the Bulls didn’t bring the same intensity they had in road wins at New York and Miami. Thibodeau talked about his expectations after this win.
“We’re short-handed, so we have to play with great intensity all the time,” he said. “We can never relax, never exhale. We have to grind, we have to fight, and we have to do it for 48 minutes, have to do it day after day, and we have to keep striving for improvement.”
“I think we have a pretty serious-minded team. For us, we had 10 home losses. We spent some time analyzing why. But it’s an important not to focus in on the past, and I thought our team did that.
“There are times we played extremely well at home. I think the important thing is to come out with the right mindset from the start of the game.”
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