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Tired of team’s softness, big man Bobby Portis sparks Bulls over Hawks

ATLANTA — Bulls forward Bobby Portis took it personally.

With the Bulls already trailing the Hawks by 12 points late in the first quarter Sunday, Portis thought the team again was playing soft. So he decided to muddy the game a bit.

After an elbow here and a flex-the-muscles pose there, the Hawks suddenly were the team that softened up.

‘‘We were playing very soft, and Bobby is a guy that is a player that will go out and make physical plays for us,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘You have to have a guy like that on the floor.’’

The Bulls came back to beat the Hawks 129-122, and Portis finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. He also was a plus-21 in his 27 minutes.

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‘‘Aw, for sure,’’ Portis said when he was asked if he took it upon himself to bring some pain to the floor. ‘‘Sitting on the sideline, you get a chance to analyze the game for five, six, seven minutes while you’re sitting there. I’m always talking to my teammates that are coming off the bench with me and telling them that we’ve got to bring the fire, bring the juice off the bench. I feel like each and every player that came off the bench made a positive impact on the game.’’

While many Bulls fans might have wanted the Hawks to come out on top in a game between two teams vying for a high draft pick this summer, Bulls players have a different attitude. They were embarrassed by their 99-83 loss Friday to the Pistons.

‘‘We felt embarrassed last game with our performance that we displayed,’’ Portis said. ‘‘Our toughness wasn’t there the last game, so we tried to bring the physicality to this game. We didn’t want this one to slip out of our hands.’’

The starters helped with that. Portis might have steadied the ship, but Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter and helped the Bulls hold off the Hawks’ rally. LaVine finished with 21 points and Markkanen with 19.

Hoiberg acknowledged the strong finish by the starters, but he still wanted to credit the bench for scoring 62 points.

‘‘I give our bench a lot of credit for really turning that game around,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘I thought they came out and made simple plays.

‘‘I thought every single guy in that first unit was thirsty out there, except for Robin [Lopez]. He was setting screens, rolling, and then we would throw up a contested shot. But the second unit came out and calmed things down.’’

NOTES: Coach Fred Hoiberg pulled no punches about a behind-the-back pass Denzel Valentine attempted during the game. The pass went out of bounds.

‘‘I thought we made simple plays, except for Denzel’s stupid-ass pass out of bounds on a behind-the-back,’’ Hoiberg said.

Asked whether Valentine had learned his lesson, Hoiberg said, ‘‘God, I hope so.’’

• Robin Lopez started, but Justin Holiday didn’t play despite being dressed and active.

• Paul Zipser still was sidelined by soreness in his left foot.

• Antonio Blakeney scored 14 points in 19 minutes off the bench.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com