The Look Back:
The Bulls played .500 basketball this week. They went 2-2, and are now 6-11 on the season, just one game back from the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Guess what, true believers? This season isn’t lost just yet!!!
Why am I so positive? Zach LaVine willed the Bulls to a victory.
But before we get to the hero Zach LaVine, let’s start at the beginning of the week with the Bulls 2nd loss of the season to the Milwaukee Bucks (115-101).
This loss played out exactly as the previous loss to the Bucks had, there was just too much Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak scored 33 points, snagged 10 rebounds and 3 steals. As much as Giannis dominated the stat sheet, this game will forever be etched into the hearts of Bulls fans as “The Daniel Gafford Game.” That’s right, for the first time this season, rookie Center, Daniel Gafford got some meaningful minutes in a game, and he made the most of them.
21 points, 5 assists, and 2 blocks in 20 minutes of playing time. Why hasn’t he been in the rotation? It was a stellar performance from the rookie, and he’s seen playing time in every game since.
Wednesday was Luol Deng Night at the United Center, and the Bulls celebrated their recently retired star by beating the Detroit Pistons, 109-89.
It was also a good night for Lauri Markkanen. He led all scorers with 24 points, and shot 50% from the field while going 3-4 from 3 point range. It was a vintage Markkanen performance, and gave us all a bit of false hope that Lauri had turned a corner.
Friday night, the Bulls suffered one of their worst defeats of the season at the hands of Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat (116-108). The Heat jumped on the Bulls right from the opening tip, cruising to a 13-0 start in the 1st three minutes of the game. The Heat were hot and the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket. Coach Jim Boylen, upset with his players lack luster start, benched Zach LaVine after the opening 13 point run from the Heat, accusing the Bulls best scorer of committing 3 egregious errors on defense.
The truth is, LaVine probably committed more than 3 egregious errors on defense in those opening 3 minutes of the game, but then so did every other player in the Bulls starting lineup. They all sucked, but taking the best scorer off the floor when you need points doesn’t seem like the best way to remedy the situation. So Zach sat, and stewed, and the Heat pulled away to a 67-43 half-time lead. Zach eventually got back into the game. He only scored 15 points on Friday, which was still enough to lead the Bulls scoring efforts.
A garbage time comeback by the Bulls 3rd stringers made the game look a lot closer than it actually was. The reason why it was the worst loss of the season wasn’t because of the score, it was Jim Boylen singling out Zach LaVine as the problem and benching him. Whether Boylen was trying to send a message to LaVine, or the whole team by proxy, all the benching seems to have done was drive a wedge between the head coach and the players.
After the game, Coach Boylen made some very pointed remarks to the media about his disappointment in LaVine’s play. LaVine responded in kind with some very pointed remarks about playing time and the teams lack of rhythm on offense. It was the teams dirty laundry proudly displayed for the world to see.
Told that Boylen said he made “3 egregious defensive mistakes,” LaVine said: “Zach LaVine got 13 points scored on him, I guess. Or was it the starting 5? I don’t remember. I thought I was trying to do my job out there.”
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 23, 2019
Which leads us to Zach LaVine’s career night against the Charlotte Hornets last night.
MVP of Week 5: Zach LaVine (2)
If you’re the type of person who thinks that the ends justify the means then you might be congratulating Jim Boylen on his excellent motivational skills regarding Zach LaVine. I’m not one of those people, so I’m going to give LaVine all the credit for his brilliant 49 point, 4 rebound, with 13 three pointers made performance in which he drilled the game winning 3 with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. Final score: 116-115. This felt more like an “F- You” game from Zach LaVine, than a “I understand why you benched me, and you’re right, I need to play better” sort of game.
Regardless of the motivation, it was a shooting night rarely seen in the NBA. Zach went 17-28 from the field, 13-17 from behind the three point arc. Only Klay Thompson has made more three pointers in the single game (the less we say about that the better, I don’t need the flash backs).
It’s not often in life that you get a chance at a “do-over,” but that’s what last nights win against the Hornets felt like. It was a chance to right the wrong of the opening night, one point defeat the Bulls suffered at the hands of the Hornets. It was a chance to rewrite the record books and maybe history itself, as the Bulls made up for Charlotte’s historic shooting night with one of their own. It was one of the most exhilarating comebacks I’ve ever seen, reminiscent of Reggie Miller thwarting the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semi-finals. It was a win this struggling Bulls team can build off of, and it was spear headed by the will of Zach LaVine.
Zach LaVine, and the Bulls, broke out of the well tread cart path of giving up a lead late in the game and losing to a team they should have beat. This has to become the norm now, finishing games they should win. The effort, the will to win, the mental strength to not just rollover and die when a game seems out of reach, LaVine and the Bulls displayed all those qualities and more as they battled to the buzzer.
Coby White was tremendous in the game, he scored 28 points with 4 three pointers of his own, and made an important layup in the closing seconds of the game. Tomas Satoransky had an equally important three pointer in the closing seconds, and Ryan Arcidiacono forced the final turnover that allowed LaVine to snatch victory from the pointy jaws of defeat. It was a team victory, but it was LaVine’s night.
The Look Ahead:
This next week will give the Bulls an opportunity to pick up some unexpected wins when they face off against the rudderless Portland Trailblazers and the tanking Golden State Warriors.
Monday, the 5-12 Trailblazers travel to Chicago where the Bulls will get there first look of the season at Carmelo Anthony, CJ McCollum, and maybe Damian Lillard who has been battling back spasms the last few games. The Bulls will definitely miss the Blazer’s star center Jusuf Nurkic as he recovers from a broken leg, which will be very helpful in the war for rebounds and paint dominance.
Wednesday, the Bulls start a three game west coast swing with a contest against the G-League Golden State Warriors (3-14). I say G-League because all the injuries the Warriors are dealing with makes their playing roster unrecognizable. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell are all out right now with injuries, Draymond Green is nursing an ankle injury and might not go against the Bulls. Even with all the starters out the Bulls can’t afford to take the Warriors lightly, they can’t roll into this game assuming they’re walking out with a win. This is another “do-over” game for the Bulls, a chance to bury a team suffering from injuries, something they failed to do against the Pacers, Bucks, and Nets.
The Bulls finish the week on Friday, in Portland, for a rematch with the Blazers.
These are all winnable games, maybe even must win games for the Bulls as they try to claw there way back to respectability. As ugly as the first 5 weeks of this season have been, there is still a legitimate chance for the Bulls to make the playoffs, that’s how bad the Eastern Conference is this season. They have to take this win against Charlotte and ride that victory wave up and down the west coast.
Bulls Win Share Leaders:
1. Wendell Carter Jr 1.9
2. Tomas Satoransky 1.0
3. Kris Dunn 0.9
Bulls +/- Leaders (10 or more games played):
1. Shaquille Harrison +1.8
2. Wendell Carter Jr +1.6
3. Ryan Arcidiacono +0.5
Until next time, hang ten reader and GO BULLS!