Clinging to just a one-game lead over the New York Knicks for the eighth seed in the East, the Atlanta Hawks came into Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls needing a win.
Meanwhile, third-place Chicago already earned their playoff berth and were looking to complete a season sweep over the Hawks after winning the first three meetings of the year.
The Bulls got the job done and completed the clean sweep rather easily with a 105-92 win Wednesday night at Atlanta.
Dating back to last season, Chicago has now won six straight games over the Hawks by an average of just under 16 points per game.
The win also gives the Bulls their third in a row after beating Boston twice in a back-to-back set on Sunday and Monday.
Atlanta beat Philadelphia on Monday to snap and six-game losing streak, but unfortunately now find themselves back in loss column and in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs as they trail New York, who routed Brooklyn 110-81 on Wednesday, by .002 percentage points in the standings.
The Hawks came out firing against Chicago, as they shot 66 percent from the floor in the first period. The offense was flowing, but they lacked the same prowess on the defensive side, and ended up allowing the offensively-challenged Bulls to drop 31 points in the first period. The second quarter would be the turning point for the Hawks. The Bulls went on a 16-3 run in the quarter, and would really never look back from there. They were more physical, got to the boards on both sides, and just out-manned the Hawks.
The Hawks would go on a run in the third quarter to make it 60-57, but that would be as close as they would get for the remainder of the game. A late surge by the Bulls gave them a double-digit lead, and Chicago took this one by 13 points.
Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Teague had 21 points and eight assists. The defense would let them down, as they allowed the Bulls to shoot 48 percent from beyond the arc, and 51 percent from the floor overall. At times the Hawks seemed disinterested, and the Bulls clearly wanted this game more.
With the loss, the Knicks now have sole custody of the eighth seed in the East, and the Hawks are now on the outside looking in, according to the official standings on NBA.com. Atlanta does own the tie-breaker though, and if it comes down to the two teams having identical records, the Hawks would be in the playoffs. It will be an interesting final stretch for the birds, but we now know they will finish under .500 for the first time since 2008.
Atlanta is back in action on Friday at home against the Clevland Cavaliers. Every game from here on out should be considered a must-win.