CHICAGO -- The pain Luol Deng was experiencing had nothing to do with a poke in the eye or a sore back.
The Chicago Bulls were playing the way they had all season, missing shot after shot and giving the ball away like some charitable contribution. And then, everything changed.
"If we struggle shooting, we've got to be aggressive," Deng said.
The Bulls did just that and the result was a 90-78 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
Deng finished with 22 points, Ben Gordon added 21, and Chicago snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Bulls desperately needed the win after a 1-5 trip left them with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and it came against a team they've dominated in recent seasons.
The victory was the Bulls' 12th straight over Atlanta, a longtime doormat that is showing signs of an awakening.
The Bulls finally looked like a good team, outscoring the Hawks 36-21 in the third quarter to stretch a four-point lead into a 70-51 advantage.
Gordon scored nine in the period, and Deng and Tyrus Thomas added eight.
Deng, who scored 21 in Sunday's loss at Toronto after missing three games with back pain, seemed just fine -- other than a bloodshot right eye. He got that when he was poked by teammate Joakim Noah going for a loose ball.
"I can't be out there thinking about my back," said Deng, who took several charges. "I've just got to go out there and play."
Thomas delivered several impressive dunks in the third and finished the game with 12 rebounds.
"Our offense tonight was just atrocious," coach Mike Woodson said. "I don't know what we were doing."
The Bulls owned a 60-37 advantage on the boards, outscored the Hawks 38-28 in the paint and had 20 second-chance points to Atlanta's 12.
"We weren't blocking out," said the Hawks' Al Horford, who had 14 rebounds. "That's the thing you can blame it on. You have to be able to hit bodies."
Chicago perked up late in the first half, and broke the game open in the third.
Thomas spun into the lane for a dunk, and Deng hit two free throws that made it 46-36. Duhon's 3-pointer, Gordon's pull-up jumper after a steal, and two free throws by Duhon made it 53-38 with 5:49 left in the third.
"I just wanted to come in and pick up the tempo," Duhon said. "I seem to know when to speed things up and when to slow things down. I thought the tempo was slow when I came in. I just wanted to play hard and bring a lot of energy. We know we can play better than we've been playing."
It was a sharp turnaround for a team that hit just 15 of 45 shots in the first half, attempted two free throws and committed 12 turnovers -- none uglier than this one.
Kirk Hinrich made a poor decision on a break with just under five minutes left and the Bulls trailing by one. Noah had just stolen a pass from Anthony Johnson, leading to a breakaway for Hinrich. He threw a low pass back to Noah, who was not expecting the ball, rather than take the wide open layup.
That resulted in a turnover and loud boos from the crowd.
"If we give the crowd something to cheer about, they're going to cheer," said Ben Wallace, who grabbed 12 rebounds.
Bulls fans have had little to cheer this season. Then again, their team has made a habit of overcoming slow starts and making the playoffs.
"It's just one game," Deng said. "We really can't start thinking about that now."
- The Hawks have not beaten the Bulls since a 116-101 victory at the United Center on April 9, 2004.
- Smith blocked six shots for Atlanta, giving him at least one in 65 straight games.
- Atlanta was 8-of-31 from the field in the first half.
- The Bulls' 60 rebounds matched an NBA season-high set by Charlotte against Seattle on Nov. 17.