Markkanen lifts Bulls past Hawks for first win
CHICAGO — For more than three quarters Thursday, Lauri Markkanen struggled to settle into a shooting rhythm.
However, when the Chicago Bulls needed a big shot late in the fourth quarter, the rookie forward who has emerged as a reliable outside shooter finally came through with the on-target shot that was eluding him for much of the night.
Markkanen scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Bulls beat the Atlanta Hawks 91-86 for their first victory of the season.
Robin Lopez scored 16 points for Chicago (1-3), and David Nwaba provided a spark with 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Markkanen, who finished the night shooting 5-for-13, connected on a 3-pointer with 48.5 seconds remaining to give Chicago a four-point advantage after the Hawks rallied to take a lead.
“I’m not afraid of the big moment,” Markkanen said. “Even though my shot wasn’t falling early on, I still believe that every shot I shoot is going in.”
Markkanen wasn’t alone in his confidence.
“Everybody has faith in him,” Lopez said. “I don’t think anyone was surprised to see that shot go in.”
The Bulls won despite shooting only 36 percent from the field and hitting on only 7 of 32 3-point attempts (21.9 percent). Despite struggling to find their range, the Bulls did just enough and relied on the effort that coach Fred Hoiberg knows is going to have to be a focal point as his young team tries to find its footing.
Chicago had six players reach double figures. Justin Holiday chipped in with 13 points while Denzel Valentine and Jerian Grant each finished with 11.
The Bulls avoided their first 0-4 start since the 2007-08 season.
“To be able to pull out a win despite those shooting numbers is a great sign for our guys,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have to do that — we’re going to have to grind out games to give ourselves a chance if our shots aren’t falling.”
Marco Belinelli led Atlanta (1-4) with 23 points. Kent Bazemore scored 16 points, and Mike Muscala added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
A Belinelli 3-pointer gave the Hawks an 86-85 lead with 1:48 remaining before Holiday hit a short jumper to give the Bulls the lead back. Markkanen’s 3-pointer pushed the margin to four and allowed the Bulls to hold on for the victory.
The Hawks, who continued to play without several key pieces, could not capitalize after taking the lead with less than two minutes to play. They lost their fourth consecutive game.
“I think we need to find some positives because we have another game tomorrow,” Muscala said. “That is the nature of the league. You have to be ready to go again. Obviously, we are a little upset right now, but we have to get past that and get ready to go tomorrow.”
Valentine made a 3-pointer with 7:38 remaining to extend the Bulls’ lead to 75-67 after the Hawks trimmed their deficit to three points less than a minute earlier. The Hawks took a 78-77 lead with 5:53 remaining on a Muscala 3-point field goal.
The Bulls opened the second half on a 12-5 run to build a 49-44 lead with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter. Holiday hit two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, which stretched Chicago’s lead to eight.
A strong finish, capped by Markkanen’s 3-pointer in the final minute, finally validated the effort that Hoiberg has seen from his collection of young talent since late August. The victory may have provided an extra dose of confidence as the Bulls begin the long road ahead.
“(Winning) is what we’re out here trying to do, and we’re all happy we got that one,” Lopez said. “We put a lot of work into it. We’ll enjoy it and get back to work tomorrow.”
NOTES: Hawks G Dennis Schroder (ankle) missed his second game in a row, but he could return for Atlanta’s home opener Friday night against the Denver Nuggets. ... Atlanta F Ersan Ilyasova (knee) was active but did not play. Coach Mike Budenholzer said giving Ilyasova one more day “made a lot of sense.” ... Bulls F Paul Zipser did not play after sustaining a knee contusion during a scrimmage Wednesday. Zipser participated in shootaround but experienced swelling in the knee. Denzel Valentine started in his place. ... Chicago G Kris Dunn remains out with a dislocated finger and swelling in his left hand. Dunn will practice Friday and be re-evaluated Saturday. ... Bulls F Nikola Mirotic (concussion, facial fractures) has not cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol. Mirotic, who is out four to six weeks with the injuries sustained in an altercation in practice with F Bobby Portis, will be re-evaluated next week.