Bulls suffer preliminary loss to Hawks before main event vs. Bucks

The NBA isn’t like it was in the 1980s and ’90s, but newcomer Tristan Thompson had that vibe going, and he wasn’t even on the Bulls when Grayson Allen injured Alex Caruso.

SHARE Bulls suffer preliminary loss to Hawks before main event vs. Bucks
Hawks center Clint Capela and Bulls center Nikola Vucevic vie for a rebound Thursday in Atlanta.

Hawks center Clint Capela and Bulls center Nikola Vucevic vie for a rebound Thursday in Atlanta.

John Bazemore/AP

ATLANTA — All season, the Bulls have emphasized how they’ve bonded. Through good, bad, COVID and injuries, the players claimed to have a unique chemistry.

It’s about to be tested Friday at the United Center.

And if that bond is as strong as they say it is, if they are their brother’s keeper, then there has to be some sort of justice meted out.

Welcome to Chicago, Grayson Allen.

It has been six weeks since the Bucks guard — and former Duke bad boy — decided to foul and harm Alex Caruso as the spark plug of the Bulls’ defense was attacking the rim. The midair tackle in the third quarter earned Allen a flagrant-2 foul and a one-game suspension. Caruso fractured his right wrist and is still rehabbing.

Cameras caught Allen smirking near the bench as Caruso was being looked at by trainers.

Caruso did say afterward that Allen never checked on him and called the play “bulls---.’’ That was before an MRI exam showed the wrist was fractured. He hasn’t spoken about it since.

And while the NBA doesn’t have the hard-core “unwritten rules’’ that baseball has, there is on-the-court player justice. It’s not like it was in the 1980s and ’90s, but it exists.

It sure sounded like newcomer Tristan Thompson felt like it did, and he wasn’t even on the team when Allen injured Caruso.

“You take out one of my dogs like that, we’re going to have issues,’’ Thompson said after the Bulls’ 130-124 loss to the Hawks. “You gotta set the tone. I mean, that’s what Bulls basketball is about — setting a tone. What [Allen] did affected one of our guys, and I don’t think anyone should forget about that. So I’m pretty sure the United Center is going to be rockin’ Friday. Guys have it in the back of their head, and if guys want to play chippy, let’s play chippy. I like it. I like a little blood and sweat. I enjoy it.

“It’s the regular season. It’s all right. I like to wrestle.’’

First things first, and that meant getting by a pesky Hawks team Thursday at State Farm Arena. The Bulls (39-24) failed miserably in that department, especially in their late-game execution and on the defensive end, letting Trae Young do them in with 39 points.

Not that it should have even gotten as close as it did.

The Bulls couldn’t have asked for a better start offensively, making three-pointers as well as they have to start a game in months.

By the time the first quarter came to an end, the Bulls were 7-for-11 (63.6%) from long range, building a 35-29 lead.

But like the Hawks have done in the previous three meetings this season, they rallied when they seemed to be left for dead.

Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer with 1:41 left to put Atlanta up by one, and after DeMar DeRozan was called for traveling, it was Young time. The All-Star made a 27-foot three-pointer with 1:13 left.

Out of the timeout, Coby White missed a three-pointer, and Young was at it again. This time, he dropped a step-back three on White, all but providing the dagger with 44.2 seconds left.

And the Bulls had no one but themselves to blame, allowing Atlanta to score 74 points in the second half.

“We see what the issue is,’’ DeRozan said of the latest loss. “It’s up to us to go out there and put that effort in for 48 minutes. Not spurts, not a quarter, but 48 minutes.’’

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