CHICAGO • Jeff Teague scored 26 points as the Atlanta Hawks inflicted a fourth straight defeat on the Chicago Bulls on Monday, nudging the iconic franchise closer to a first missed post-season since 2008.
Teague also notched seven assists in a 102-100 victory for the visitors as Chicago's record dipped below .500 for the first time this National Basketball Association season, leaving them at 36-37 and further adrift of the Eastern Conference play-off positions.
The Bulls' season has gone into a nosedive in recent weeks, with the team losing 11 of their last 17 matches to plummet down the standings.
The team held a clear-the-air meeting at the weekend after a damaging defeat by the Orlando Magic on Saturday but were always chasing the game against the Hawks, who opened up a 15-point lead in the second half.
A sustained Chicago rally saw them claw back to 93-93 with 1min 40sec remaining.
But Atlanta regrouped and regained the lead with free throws from Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Teague.
Jimmy Butler scored a four-point play to take the Bulls back to 97-98 with 19.6 seconds to go, but the Hawks held firm and four more free throws from Kyle Korver and Teague sealed the win.
The win saw Atlanta improve to 45-30, with nine wins in their last 10 games.
Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg drew encouragement from his team's late rally, even though it ended in vain.
"I was proud of them for fighting back from a double-digit deficit," he said.
"We were able to recover from our poor second quarter and give ourselves a chance to win. We went down swinging, and that is something that we talked about. Stick together and keep fighting."
Bulls star Derrick Rose, who top-scored with 20 points on eight-of-25 shooting, insisted Chicago were not ready to write off their season.
"We are still fighting, still trying to find our rhythm," he said.
"(We need to) be mentally strong. Even though we are going through a rough time, (we need to) stay together and make sure everyone is on the same page."
Nail-biters were in short supply during the past week as Atlanta cruised to three consecutive wins by double-digit margins. But they had no time to relax on Monday as they held on in the final minute for the win.
"You want to feel the pressure a little bit, make some free throws (down the stretch)," coach Mike Budenholzer said.
"It's good to find a way to win on the road in a close game."
A balanced attack made the hard-fought win a reality for Atlanta.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS