The Bulls have been in more stretch runs than a thoroughbred racehorse this season, blowing fourth-quarter opportunities more often than not. That trend continued Tuesday night at the United Center when the Bulls faltered in the fourth quarter of a 105-102 loss to the Hawks.
Once again, the Bulls found themselves in crunch time, taking a 94-93 lead on Derrick Rose's lefty layup.
But Mike Bibby kick-started a quick 7-0 run on a jumper with 4 minutes 58 seconds left, followed by a Flip Murray basket and a Bibby three-pointer with 3:59 left.
Ben Gordon's drive cut the Bulls' deficit to 100-96, but Bibby struck again, sinking another jumper with 2:39 to play.
Zaza Pachulia fouled Gordon on a three-point attempt Gordon still almost made with 69 seconds left. Gordon missed the middle of three free throws to make it 102-98.
Bibby then came up big defensively, stripping Gordon near midcourt after the Bulls started a fast break from forcing a Joe Johnson miss.
Bibby's dagger jumper with 18.9 seconds left sealed the deal and sent the crowd of 20,389 to the exits.
Bibby led all scorers with 31 points while Josh Smith added 17 points and 13 rebounds. Gordon had 21 points to lead the Bulls.
Earlier, the Hawks ripped off a 15-0, first-quarter run to make matters appear bleak. Del Negro, however, substituted early, even taking Rose out for Hinrich at the 7:20 mark. Andres Nocioni also replaced Tyrus Thomas at this point.
And only more than a minute later, Aaron Gray replaced Joakim Noah. Gray hadn't played in three games, but he helped spark a 16-0 run with four points while Luol Deng added six.
Gray had seven points and five rebounds by halftime, at which point the Bulls had shot 51.1 percent and led 53-50 thanks to a huge rebounding edge. Twelve of the Bulls' 28 first-half rebounds came on the offensive end, leading to 17 second-chance points at the break.
The Bulls also effectively employed occasional zone defense to stymie Atlanta into 40.5 percent, first-half shooting. That defense didn't bother Bibby who had 17 points by the break.
The Bulls again went cold in the third, failing to score on six straight possessions as Atlanta reeled off a 14-0 run to take a 72-61 lead.
Gordon and Nocioni, however, helped bring the Bulls back, combining for 13 points in the quarter as the teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 77-77.
The Bulls again were without Drew Gooden, who clearly labored through his limited stint Monday in New York.
"His groin is bothering him and we don't play [again] until Friday so, hopefully, he can get healthy," Del Negro said.
Building on his healthy rebounding effort on Monday in New York, during which he snared 18 boards, Noah again played with energy and activity, snaring 11 rebounds.
"He needs to protect the paint, give energy, block shots, rebound and run," Del Negro said. "His energy and rebounding lately have been very good."
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12: In seven seasons, Drew Gooden has missed 12 or more games to injury three times. Gooden missed his 12th Monday, sitting with a strained groin. He played all 82 games once -- in 2004-05.