(The Sports Xchange) - As strange as it sounds, Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer prefers that his players experience a close game every now and then.
Nail-biters were in short supply during the past week as Atlanta cruised to three consecutive wins by double-digit margins. But the Hawks had no time to relax Monday as they held on in the final minute for a 102-100 win over the Chicago Bulls.
“You want to feel the pressure a little bit, make some free throws (down the stretch),” Budenholzer said. “It’s good to find a way to win on the road in a close game.”
A balanced attack made the hard-fought win a reality for Atlanta.
Jeff Teague scored 26 points and dished out seven assists to lead the Hawks. Paul Millsap scored 11 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked six shots. Al Horford matched Millsap’s double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Atlanta (45-30) increased its winning streak to four games and improved to 9-1 in its past 10 contests. The Hawks completed a season sweep against the Bulls with a 4-0 record.
“It was a good test for our team,” Horford said. “We didn’t want it to get to that point, but they started making shots late. They pushed us. It’s a positive.”
Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 20 points on 8-for-25 shooting. Pau Gasol scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Chicago (36-37) lost its fourth consecutive game and fell below .500 for the first time this season. The Bulls have lost 11 of 17 and could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
After trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Bulls rallied to even the score at 93 with 1:40 remaining. Aaron Brooks hit a 3-pointer and banked in a layup to fuel the comeback.
Atlanta regained the lead on late free throws by Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Teague. Jimmy Butler converted a four-point play to pull the Bulls within 98-97 with 19.6 seconds to go, but the Hawks held on to the lead thanks to four more free throws from Kyle Korver and Teague.
Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said he appreciated his team’s effort late in the game.
“I was proud of them for fighting back from a double-digit deficit,” Hoiberg said. “We were able to recover from our poor second quarter and give ourselves a chance to win. We went down swinging, and that is something that we talked about. Stick together and keep fighting.”
The Hawks entered the fourth quarter with an 80-71 advantage. Teague scored 14 points on a series of driving layups during the third quarter to help Atlanta increase its lead.
“He was great,” Horford said of Teague. “The biggest thing is he kept attacking the basket, he kept being aggressive. When Jeff plays like that, it just makes us a different team.”
Frustrations mounted as the Bulls struggled to gain momentum after the break. Rose drew a rare technical foul for arguing about a non-call with 5:07 left in the third quarter.
Rose said he needed to stay mentally strong despite low points in the game and the season.
“We are still fighting, still trying to find our rhythm,” Rose said. “(We need to) be mentally strong. Even though we are going through a rough time, (we need to) stay together and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Atlanta erased a 13-point deficit during the second quarter to seize a 52-45 lead at halftime. Horford made a pair of jump shots and a layup as part of a 17-1 run that included 15 straight points by the Hawks. Chicago missed 14 shots in a row and went 7:42 between field goals during the run.
The Bulls scored the first eight points of the game and led 31-22 at the end of the first quarter.
“That second quarter was probably the difference in the game,” Budenholzer said. “We were able to close out a close game, even with a couple mistakes.”