Atlanta Hawks center Mike Muscala (31) reaches for a loose ball between Chicago Bulls center Nazr Mohammed (48) and guard Jimmy Butler (21) in the first half at Philips Arena. (USA TODAY Sports: Daniel Shirey)
ATLANTA — Atlanta still hasn’t found a way to slow down Chicago’s DJ Augustin, as the versatile guard came off the bench Wednesday to haunt the Hawks again.
Augustin scored 23 points, his second 20-point effort in three games to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks. The win kept the Bulls tied with Toronto, which defeated Houston, for third place in the Eastern Conference.
“He played his usual game,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said of Augustin. “I thought Taj (Gibson) set a lot of great screens and Jimmy (Butler) set a lot of great screens and that got him going.”
The fifth-year player was 8-for-15 shooting from the field and added five assists. The 6-foot guard, who scored a career-high 33 points two games ago against Boston, has scored 57 points as a reserve in the four games against the Hawks this season.
“They do things for him,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They set a lot of screens for him and there were a couple of times where we lost track of him a little bit. A couple of times he made tough plays and tough shots.”
Augustin had four 3-pointers, the last with 3:20 remaining that ended any hopes of Atlanta comeback.
“He’s a big shot maker. He makes big plays,” Thibodeau said. “Not only with shooting but with his playmaking. If you trap him, he’ll hit the open man.”
It was the third straight win for Chicago (43-32), which swept the four-game season series against Atlanta and has now beaten the Hawks six straight times.
Atlanta (32-42) has lost seven of its last eight games. The loss, coupled with New York’s win, leaves the Hawks and Knicks tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls are 28-2 when they score at least 86 points.
Chicago also got 17 points from Butler, 17 points and six assists from guard Kirk Hinrich, 12 points and six rebounds from forward Carlos Boozer and 10 points, 19 rebounds and six assists from center Joakim Noah.
Atlanta was led by forward Paul Millsap with 22 points and 11 rebounds, his 25th double-double of the season, and point guard Jeff Teague, who had 21 points and eight assists. Guard Kyle Korver scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
The entertaining first quarter, which finished in a 31-31 tie, was highlighted by 3-pointers. Korver made three and Teague had two. Chicago guard Tony Snell knocked down two 3-pointers.
Atlanta led by as many as six points, but Chicago tied the score at 28 thanks to a 12-6 run late in the quarter.
The Bulls took command in the second quarter on the strength of a 10-0 run that gave them a 48-42 lead. Chicago stretched the lead to nine when Augustin’s uncontested layup made it 54-45 with 2:38 left in the half. The Bulls led 57-49 at the break after Augustin scored all of his 14 first-half points in the second quarter.
“I liked our defense after the first quarter,” Thibodeau said. “I thought the ball pressure picked up and after that good things happened.”
Atlanta cut the lead to 60-57 on Teague’s layup with 8:04 left, but Chicago answered by scoring six straight points to the return the lead to nine. The Hawks gamely used their defense to prevent the Bulls from putting the game away and drew within two points at 66-64 on Teague’s 3-pointer. But Chicago kept the momentum and led 78-72 after third quarters.
The Bulls opened the fourth quarter by outscoring Atlanta 9-1 to stretch their lead to 87-73, with Noah adding two baskets and an assist during the run. Atlanta never got closer than seven points.
In four games this season, the Bulls have limited the Hawks to an average of 91 points — 10 points below their season average. Atlanta had 16 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Bulls.
“They’re a good defensive team,” Millsap said. “We started off moving the basketball well and kind of slowed down. We took a few bad shots and that’s where the focus comes in.”