CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls have their own sort of mantra before the second half and it's the biggest reason why they've been so dominant in the last 24 minutes of every game lately.
"Doing anything to win the game," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "We try to take their confidence about five minutes into the third quarter. That's what we always say. In the next five minutes we've got to be ahead, or we've got to take control of the game. And that's everybody's thought when we go on the court."
After coming out relatively flat during Friday night's first half and trailing the Atlanta Hawks 50-48, they came rolling back hard, as usual. The Bulls outscored the Hawks 46-26 in the second half.
"We discuss it all the time," Rose said of the late-game mentality. "But I think all the players know. We played a terrible half and we were real geeked up to go out there and play again."
Bulls center Joakim Noah believes it all comes down to his teammates getting more comfortable with coach Tom Thibodeau's plan.
"We're just understanding Thibs’ system a lot better," he said. "We're a confident ballclub and we know if we keep improving our defense that we're going to be able to win basketball games."
Bulls inch closer to Boston: With the win, the Bulls are now just a half game behind the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The team doesn't want to scoreboard watch, but the Bulls are happy about the possibilities over the final month of the regular season.
"Yes sir, it's exciting stuff," Noah said. "But we understand, to get to where we want to get to, we just got to stay focused on the moment. Not worry about expectations, not worry about what you guys are talking about. When you win a couple games in a row, everything's unbelievable and then you lose one it's like the end of the world. We're not worried about that; we're staying focused on what we need to focus on, and that's just getting better, improving, and winning ballgames. It's good stuff."
Rose agreed about not losing focus.
"Of course people talk about it, but that's not the thing, just to be ahead of the Celtics," Rose said. "We're not talking about that. We're just trying to win games and put games together."
The last word: Luol Deng, on the Bulls’ team unity:
"All you guys want to talk about, ‘This team got three guys, this team got three guys.’ We've got a lot of guys who can play. Kurt Thomas can play. We've been a team all year. Guys have been very unselfish; we've got guys stepping up when their name is called. When we have injuries like that, guys are ready. Guys are ready to jump in and get the job done."