ATLANTA — The pregame chatter centered on a swollen foot, an infected elbow and a sore hamstring.
But reflecting their hard-driving, no-excuses coach, the Bulls kept their focus Saturday night on points, rebounds and assists. And, of course, defense.
The result was a 93-76 victory over the Hawks, a team that thirsted for revenge after the Bulls' 97-58 shellacking of them at the United Center last month.
Instead the Bulls overcame a 44-43 halftime deficit, surging ahead in the third quarter.
Nate Robinson came alive with 12 points in the frame, Richard Hamilton had a no-look feed to Jimmy Butler on a break and, in one memorable sequence, the Bulls played ping-pong on the glass, snagging three offensive rebounds before a Taj Gibson tip-in.
"Big hustle plays like that unite and inspire your team," Thibodeau said. "When a guy does something like that, it lifts everyone up."
Gibson finished with 19 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks, not too shabby for a guy who didn't get a second of rest Friday night in Brooklyn. He became the first Bull since Ben Wallace in 2007 to play all 48 minutes. He logged 45 more Saturday.
"I'm exhausted," he admitted. "They kept giving me electrolytes on the bench, but I kept wanting to play. I know late in (Friday's) game I ran out of gas, and I didn't want to have that happen tonight."
Gibson said he's not a "stats" guy, so he didn't know he totaled a career-high 19 rebounds.
"Yeah, they were telling me: 'Keep going,'" he said of his teammates. "But I wasn't worried about the rebounds. I just wanted to win this game."
Gibson drew some inspiration from fellow bigs Joakim Noah, sidelined with soreness in his right foot, and Carlos Boozer, who missed his third straight game with a stiff right hamstring. Boozer warmed up but decided not to risk aggravating it, despite the Bulls having to play short-handed.
"I don't ever want a player to make a decision based on where we are, whether we've lost a game," Thibodeau said. "I want them to make their decision based on whether they are healthy enough to play."
The Bulls thrived with their ninth lineup of the season. Thibodeau started Gibson, Hamilton, Robinson, Butler and Luol Deng, who scored a game-high 25 points to go along with 14 rebounds, five assists and excellent defense at several positions.
"Deng is tough to guard," Hawks center Al Horford said. "When we were going to help, they were tipping in shots. They were by far the more aggressive team."
And the more efficient one. The Bulls committed just nine turnovers, tying a season low for a Hawks opponent.
Deng and Gibson combined to log more than 90 minutes Saturday. And neither coughed up the ball once.
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