ATLANTA -- Not even 24 hours after his team's biggest win of the season, Joakim Noah found himself sitting inside his locker stall in the back of the visitors' locker room in Phillips Arena trying to figure out what had just gone wrong. A night after scoring 110 points in a win over the New York Knicks, Noah and the Bulls followed that up by playing their most lifeless game of the season, losing 92-75 to the Atlanta Hawks. It was a performance that the center and his teammates would just like to forget.
"It was a letdown because we lost," Noah said. "We got our asses kicked. Tough loss. The highs and lows of this thing are unbelievable, man. One night you feel great because you won a big game and then the next night you come out with the wrong mindset and we lose the game."
It would be easy to blame the loss on scheduling, especially considering the Bulls flew in early Saturday morning after an emotional win in Madison Square Garden, but Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wanted no part of that excuse. As he pointed out, the Hawks played in Philadelphia Friday night and were finishing off a stretch of four games in five nights.
"It's a will game," Thibodeau said. "And it's 21-17 (after the first quarter), you're ready, you have a lead, and then we got to do better. And then you've got to play for 48 minutes; and some nights on the road or at home you may not make shots, you've got to be able count on your defense, your rebounding, taking care of the ball. When you do that you give yourself a chance to win. When you don't do that, when you allow frustration to set in because of a missed shot and you don't sprint back and protect your basket, you don't stop the ball and you don't find your most dangerous guy, then you're asking for trouble."
The Bulls found plenty of that throughout the night. Their defense was not sharp, their offense had no rhythm and they were outscored 61-33 in the second and third quarters combined. The Bulls had no answer for anything the Hawks did, which infuriated Thibodeau even more.
"Tonight our energy was bad," Noah said. "I feel like we settled for too many shots early in the clock. When you're tired sometimes you've just got to move the ball. We let them play to their strengths, as well."
Thibodeau may not want to hear it, but the Bulls looked like a tired bunch. After playing with so much fire Friday night, they just couldn't match the desire against the Hawks. Still, the players knew they should have played with much more intensity.
"I don't know what you attribute it to, it just didn't seem like we had it tonight," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "It didn't seem like we had that edge. We seemed like we were dragging a little bit."
The Bulls now have three days before a Christmas night showdown with former teammate Omer Asik and the Houston Rockets. After such an up-and-down start, they are pleased with the way they've been playing over the last few weeks, but they realize if they play the way they did on Saturday night again, they will lose every time.
"We're not happy with the way we played," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We were low on energy, we made a lot of mistakes. Games like this happen, but at the same time we could have made a lot of smart plays out there. We're not down. We're upset we lost, but you got to get ready for the next one."