Coach Jim Boylen described the game as an approximation of the postseason experience. If that was an accurate take, then the Bulls did an awful impression of a playoff team.
Really, though, their 123-118 loss Sunday to the Hawks at the United Center was just an exhibition of bad basketball by two teams going nowhere.
A Friday-Sunday back-to-back between the Bulls and Hawks led Boylen to tell his players to consider it a taste of what a playoff series is like. In the wake of the Bulls’ 168-161, four-overtime victory in Atlanta — a wild, highly entertaining affair that was the third-highest-scoring game in NBA history — it probably wasn’t such a nonsensical notion.
But then came the rematch. If the final score Friday smacked of an All-Star Game without the All-Stars, the game Sunday reflected two low-energy teams — the Bulls (18-46), especially — that spent an afternoon resting their weary legs on defense.
Boylen remarked before the game that he’d be looking for ‘‘grit,’’ ‘‘toughness’’ and ‘‘competitiveness’’ from his players. Then he watched them sit back on their heels as the Hawks shot 21-for-42 from three-point range, with few of the shots contested in earnest.
The Hawks (22-42) kept lighting it up from long range even after rookie star Trae Young, who had torched the Bulls for 49 points Friday, was hit with a controversial second technical foul and ejected early in the third quarter. The Bulls trailed by 16 when Young got the heave-ho and rallied close enough that Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen each hoisted a potential tying three-pointer in the last half-minute. Still, the Bulls never led after the first quarter against a short-handed opponent that was equally low on gas.
Grit? Toughness? Competitiveness? Hey, maybe some other time.
‘‘We were fighting uphill all game,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘I thought we battled to get back in it, down 16. We hung in there.’’
It would have been hard not to against the Hawks, who were short starters John Collins and Taurean Prince and rookie reserve Omari Spellman. But the Bulls were compromised, too.
One, they sat Otto Porter Jr. for ‘‘load management,’’ with Boylen referring to his sore calf and other aches and pains. Somehow, the Hawks had 42-year-old Vince Carter back in action after he had logged 45 minutes — his most in seven seasons — in the marathon Friday, but the 25-year-old Porter couldn’t answer the bell.
Tanks a lot? It certainly was one way to look at the decision.
Two, Zach LaVine and Markkanen — coming off 47- and 31-point outings, respectively — were stuck in neutral. LaVine didn’t make his first field goal until 4:02 remained in the first half. Markkanen, who finished with a team-high 19 points, had 12 before finishing with a mini-flourish in the final five minutes. His run of consecutive 20-point games ended at 11.
Too tired to bounce back?
‘‘Well, I hate to speak for them, but it looked that way,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘I don’t want to make excuses for them.’’
LaVine wasn’t having it.
‘‘I’m in shape,’’ he said. ‘‘So is everybody else. I think we’ll be OK. We just played a few extra minutes.’’
A second consecutive victory against the Hawks would have been the sixth in seven games overall for the Bulls. If we’re being honest, that’s no way to contend for the No. 1 pick in the draft. If Dunn or Markkanen had made his late three and the game had gone to overtime, the Bulls somehow might have managed to outscore the Hawks in the end, and the gap between the teams in the standings would have been a scant two games.
So there’s the bright side, if you’re into that whole losing-is-good way of looking at things. It’s the sort of thing supporters of actual postseason teams — not pretend ones — never have to think about.