Bulls feel like they 'stole' one against Hawks

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
10:48
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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ATLANTA -- After playing almost every second of Tuesday night's hard-fought 107-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks, Mike Dunleavy dragged his tired body off a training table in the back room, slid into a chair in front of his locker and put his feet into a waiting bucket of ice.

The veteran sharpshooter couldn't help but crack a joke as he tried to ease any pain that might have been lingering after his 22-point, eight-rebound performance that helped the Chicago Bulls earn their sixth win in seven tries.

"I appreciate Thibs giving me that nine-second breather at the end of the half," he said. "That made a big difference."

[+] EnlargeBulls
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images"It wasn't pretty at times," Bulls center Joakim Noah explained after Tuesday's tilt, "but I'm just happy that we were able to come out with the win."
Those are the types of jokes that come when a team is rolling. Aside from Sunday afternoon's clunker against the Miami Heat, Tom Thibodeau's bunch continues to find ways to win -- instead of finding ways to lose, as they did earlier in the year.

"There's a lot of games we would have lost earlier in the year that we've won in the last 20 or 30 games," Dunleavy said. "We were losing to some pretty bad teams, we were losing at home, we were losing every which way. We've figured out a way the last 30 games or so to just hang in there and get wins, and hopefully we keep doing that."

Tuesday's game felt like a Bulls' game from years past.

They didn't always play well. They didn't always execute the way Thibodeau wanted them to. They got into a 14-point hole to start. But they still found a way. It's a recurring theme for a team that refuses to give up on a season that saw games like this go the other way early on.

"We'll take this one," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We feel like we kind of stole it. We didn't get off to a good start, we kind of grinded it out the whole game and it's a good win."

That's why the feelings within the Bulls' locker room were ones of happiness and relief.

They knew they didn't play that well. They knew they could have given the game away. But they were proud they came back in the end. They were proud they made plays when they had to against an injury-riddled team that has fallen on hard times.

"It's not about them, it's about us," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We have injuries, too. We're just trying to find a way. I think they really wanted that game today, and we really wanted that game, too. It wasn't pretty at times, but I'm just happy that we were able to come out with the win."

So is Thibodeau.

He has conditioned his players to believe they are never out of any game. That's why they don't panic when things go poorly. The Bulls exude an inner confidence that many teams don't have, and it has been built up over the years because of games and victories like this one.

"The endgame is getting a win," Thibodeau said. "The important thing for us is to understand what we're doing well and what we have to correct, [and] get ready for the next one. Sometimes the way it works in this league, you have the schedules going your way. Sometimes it's not.

"Whatever you're facing, you got to be prepared to deal with that and to deal with it efficiently."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5