For the first time in the 2021-22 season, the Chicago Bulls were on the wrong end of a blowout.
Fueled by 40 points from Stephen Curry, the now 11-1 Golden State Warriors ran the Bulls off the Chase Center court by a score of 119-93 Friday night.
Here are 10 observations:
1. Tony Bradley drew the start at center in the Bulls’ first game without Nikola Vučević, who tested positive for COVID-19 just before the team departed for this five-game West Coast road trip. Bradley grabbed 5 rebounds in 14 minutes, while Alize Johnson manned second-string duties, notching 9 points and 7 boards in 21 minutes.
2. Zach LaVine came out of the gate like a man aware of the stage he and the Bulls were on. Inside the contest’s first seven minutes, he cracked double-figures on 4-for-5 shooting, hitting two fallaway midrange jumpers, one 3-pointer, and even driving and finishing with his taped up left hand against Andrew Wiggins.
3. But the longer the game went, the more the Warriors lasered their active, No. 1-rated defense in on clamping LaVine, against whom they deployed a box-and-one for stretches, and DeMar DeRozan, who said he had his drives stymied by consistent Golden State switching. Between quarters two and four, LaVine scored 11 points and committed 6 turnovers. DeRozan shot 4-for-13, getting nine of his 18 points at the free-throw line.
The Warriors represent a defensive death star in terms of physicality and IQ, and the Bulls struggled for offensive consistency even with Vučević in the lineup. But his absence was undoubtedly felt in this regard. Even with down percentages, Vučević’s passing acumen and (the threat of his) outside shooting ability demands defensive attention and provides floor-spacing. Without him as an outlet, Golden State smothered LaVine and DeRozan and no other Bulls did much damage; Bulls starters not named LaVine (who shot 10-for-17) shot 8-for-32 from the floor, 2-for-13 from 3-point range.
“That’s the dilemma of [Vučević],” Donovan said. “You start trapping Zach, ‘OK great, there’s [Vučević] (to pass to).’ That kind of opens things up a bit. So we’ll have to learn how to play without him now.
“Not that I’m happy Vooch (is out), but I think this is good for us. Because it’s gonna force us to have to get better as a group under these circumstances.”
4. The Bulls’ bench, which was further strained with Vučević sidelined, got off to a good start. Ayo Dosunmu buried a pair of corner 3-pointers, Derrick Jones Jr. got loose for a layup and dunk, and Alize Johnson (on the glass) and Alex Caruso (checking Steph Curry) generated deflections galore early on. The Bulls led 29-23 after the first quarter, with LaVine and DeRozan taking turns buoying reserve-heavy lineups, and 34-31 at about the eight-minute mark of the second.
That’s when the offense ground to a halt. The Bulls went scoreless for nearly the next three game minutes, and Golden State vaulted in front, eventually leading 51-45 at halftime. The Bulls, while solid defensively in the first half, scored 16 points on 35 percent shooting and committed 4 turnovers in the second quarter, and went rudderless offensively for most of it. (Both teams were sloppy at times early on; they combined for 17 turnovers in a first half that featured some chaotic and reckless sequences.)
5. It got worse from there. Behind a scoring flurry from Stephen Curry and some sloppy Chicago turnovers, Golden State opened the first five-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter on a 19-6 run to build a 19-point lead. By quarter’s end, that advantage was 24. The Bulls were outscored 35-17 in the period — 63-33 between quarters two and three — shooting 5-for-20 from the field and 2-for-12 from 3. Five of LaVine’s seven turnovers came in the third, including three on back-to-back-to-back possessions which preceded a Billy Donovan timeout.
6. Curry was in peak form all night. In the first quarter, he got free for a 3-pointer and pair of layups. He supplied two more triples and an array of dribble-drives (which opened because of the threat of his jumper) in the second to finish the first half with 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
In the third, he added another 15 points (just two less than the Bulls as a team scored in the frame), knocking down four 3-pointers. Curry got some tough attempts to fall in the first half, but the Bulls lost him on a number of occasions in the third and fourth, including on the second half’s opening possession, when Lonzo Ball got hung up on a screen resulting in a clean catch-and-shoot look.
Add in a fourth-quarter flourish, and Curry’s night ended with a smooth 40 points on ludicrous 15-for-24 shooting, 9-for-17 from behind the arc.
7. The Bulls fell well short of the offensive identity Donovan has sought to establish. Only LaVine and DeRozan cracked double-figures. The Bulls, who entered play the league’s least turnover-happy team, finished the night with 18 assists to 20 turnovers as a team. Donovan thought LaVine’s initial response as a passer to the Warriors’ double-teams was sound, but that once the deficit grew, the team’s process frayed.
8. The Bulls were attempting the fewest 3-pointers per game in the NBA (27.3) before Vučević, their third-highest volume long-range shooter, went down. In this one, they shot just 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) from behind the arc, compared to 15-for-46 (32.6 percent) by the Warriors — percentages aside, that’s a 21-point disparity from behind the arc. LaVine and Dosunmu combined to go 4-for-7 from deep, the rest of the team 4-for-20. Ball was a Bulls-worst 1-for-7.
9. The offensive glass was also a difference-maker. The Warriors pulled down 9 offensive rebounds and scored 9 second-chance points in the first half, generating enough extra possessions to compensate for their stilted start shooting the ball. By game’s end, they outrebounded the Bulls 55-44 in total, 12-7 offensively.
“Even if we don’t shoot the ball great, or it’s not going great, two things we can’t do: We can’t turn the ball over the way we did, and we can’t give up the number of offensive rebounds (we did),” Donovan said. “If those two things were a little bit better — I’m not saying we win the game, but certainly it would have been a lot closer.”
10. In a minor rotation wrinkle, two-way forward Tyler Cook saw some early fourth-quarter run with the Bulls’ deficit in the 20s. He scored his first 4 points as a Bull.
With the defeat, the Bulls drop to 8-4 on the season, and face at least another four games without their third-leading scorer, and second-leading assist man, in Vučević. Stiff competition looms.
“It’s a great learning experience for us,” said DeRozan. “We just got our butt whooped. How are we gonna respond after that?
“It’s really our first adversity, and adversity builds a lot of character. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna look at a lot of film tomorrow, figure out what we can do and what we can be better at next game.”
Next up: The Bulls get the chance to respond at the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.