Bulls can't match second half edge in loss to Pistons: 'They bullied us'

Bulls can't match second half edge in loss to Pistons: 'They bullied us'

Jim Boylen has said multiple times over the past few weeks that he wants the Bulls to continue playing in high leverage situations with playoff-like atmospheres. Though the playoffs are still a ways off for this rebuilding group, they can still gain valuable experience for when that time eventully rolls around.

They’ve been in those spots, too, with surprisingly good results. But Friday night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, a game in which they held an 17-point halftime lead and led by as many as 21 points, was a lesson in just how quickly it can turn against those kinds of teams and what it takes to win.

The Bulls were outscored by 63-38 in the second half, and Detroit’s 43-point outburst in the final stanza was more than the Bulls scored in the final 26 minutes. Led by the frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, the Pistons bullied their way to an 11th win in their last 13 tries, while the Bulls licked their wounds after an ugly second half.

“They came out and bullied us,” Zach LaVine said. “We didn’t respond very well. It’s upsetting that we didn’t finish that game because the way we were playing in the first half, that was a very winnable game.”

For two quarters the Bulls not only looked like they would win, but cruise to the finish line against the NBA’s hottest team. Their top-5 offense over the last five weeks looked as good as ever early on, as the Bulls made 10 of their first 12 shots, shot 65 percent in the first half and lived in the paint, scoring 44 of their 66 first-half points there.

The usual suspects were at it again, with Otto Porter (16), Lauri Markkanen (14) and Zach LaVine (12) accounting for 42 of those 66 points, and 15 of their 28 field goals before halftime were assisted.

But in the second half the Pistons looked like the team fighting for playoff positioning. After getting free lanes to the basket in the first half the Pistons swarmed the attacking Bulls after halftime; the Bulls three fewer shots in the paint in the second half but made just 10, compared to 22 makes in the first half.

At the same time the Pistons offense, ranked No. 1 in the NBA since Feb. 1, woke up after halftime. They used a steady dose of Griffin and Drummond and found a spark in Langston Galloway off the bench. They finished the second half shooting 61 percent, flipping the script by scoring 32 points in the paint while handing out 14 assists.

“I don’t know what it is. We just gotta bring the edge and I didn’t think we had the energy to start the third and they obviously brought it,” Markkanen said. “We just gotta come out harder and finish the job.”

The Bulls have played better the last six weeks, entering Friday’s contest having won seven of their last 12 games. And losing to a playoff team currently playing its best basketball of the season isn’t a step backward for the Bulls, but the missed opportunity to continue growing is what the Bulls will remember most about Friday’s meltdown.

It’s the next step of the rebuild for a team that seems to be coming together and playing better alongside each other. They’ve identified their core in Markkanen, LaVine and Porter and they’ve won games in which other teams struggled to close or overlooked their opponent.

But when teams push back the Bulls have had their issues, and Jim Boylen said he hopes Friday’s loss to a team that, pardon the cliché, clearly wanted it more will be a “teaching moment.”

“The third quarter did us in. Didn’t like our energy, didn’t like our spirit when they made their run,” Boylen said. “We’ll watch it, we’ll learn from it and we’ll grow.”

With 15 games left in the regular season the Bulls know there’s still room for improvements as they head into an important offseason that could see the narrative change from rebuild to contending for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference.

They can get a head start on Year 3 of the rebuild by finishing Year 2 strong, which is why Friday’s loss that could have been a convincing win over a red-hot team stung so badly.

“It seemed like we got complacent with where we were, but we talked about it,”LaVine said. “As a unit we just didn’t do our job out there in the second half. To be up 21 points, that’s unacceptable. We can’t have that happen moving forward to where we want to be at.”

How Drew Gooden thinks LeBron James can surpass Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant

How Drew Gooden thinks LeBron James can surpass Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Who is truly the greatest of the bunch?

For Bulls supporters — and, it seems, most basketball fans in the wake of “The Last Dance” — the answer is simple. Jordan, of the five MVPs, six rings (and Finals MVPs), nine scoring titles and a litany of additional accolades is without comparison.

But appearing on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico, Drew Gooden, now an NBC Sports Washington analyst and a teammate of James with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2004-2008, brought up an interesting swing variable in the debate: Phil Jackson.

“There’s one variable that we never talk about when this discussion comes up between Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and it’s one guy that I think is the variable in this formula and it’s Phil Jackson,” Gooden said. “I mean, if you take Phil Jackson out of this equation, how many championships does Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant have?

“LeBron James is in a unique situation outside of not having a Phil Jackson, being able to have to go like a vagabond and go figure it out himself with multiple coaches, multiple organizations, multiple systems. With that being said, I think his book is a lot different than Michael Jordan’s and Kobe Bryant’s, because I feel like they had the structure with Phil Jackson most of their career and were successful with Phil Jackson.”

Indeed, James’ three titles are divided between two franchises, two with the Miami Heat, one with the Cavaliers. And he's positioned for another deep run with the top-seeded Lakers this year. Jordan and Bryant’s title-rearing years came under one coach’s tutelage, James’ two (that he actually won titles with) and counting, and he's cycled through countless rosters and team infrastructures. Some will point to that tumult being his own doing, but the point stands.

Gooden wasn’t ready to anoint James ahead of Jordan and Bryant. But he did say this season could be a pivot point.

I think this will be the tale of the tape of, OK, I’ve not only done that two times, but I’m gonna do it a third time in Los Angeles,” Gooden said. “Doesn’t matter who the coach is, doesn’t matter who my teammates are, I’m gonna provide another championship for the city of Los Angeles. 

“Now if he does that now, you’re starting to see, alright, where does he separate himself from Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant.”

It won’t look conventional, but with the NBA announcing a 22-team return plan for the late summer, it seems James will get a chance.

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Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Before getting to Jim Boylen’s future, the anticlimactic end to the Bulls’ campaign and the NBA’s unprecedented 22-team play-in format to finish its 2019-20 season, Thad Young had to address the full context at hand for his conference call with reporters.

For Friday marked the 11th day since George Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine straight minutes. The killing has sparked mass unrest, protests and fervent discourse around racial injustice and police brutality across the globe. The world also continues to grapple with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the NBA on March 11, and the rest of the United States (where the virus has killed over 100,000 and counting) soon after.

“I know we’re stuck in unprecedented times where we’re in the house during COVID and then the thing that happened with George Floyd and social injustice,” Young said before fielding questions on the call. “I just want to make sure to let everybody know that I hope everybody is safe and healthy with our families, and make sure we’re holding each and every one of us close and try to get through these tough times…”

Young, 31, is currently bunkered down in his family’s new home in Texas with his wife, Shekinah, and two sons. Parsing through the realities of a racially unjust world with his sons, to hear Young tell is, has been a balancing act.

“When they come up with a question, it’s very hard to answer that question because I don’t want them to have to grow up and fear for their lives or have to grow up and understand that they can’t do the same things that other people are doing,” Young said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You want to give your kid the world. You want to get them to understand that, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.’ In these times, it’s just not the same. You can’t do everything that somebody else is doing. 

“If I’m going to be specific about it, the black kid can’t do everything that a white kid is doing. Those are things that are very, very tough to talk about. But it’s a harsh reality and we have to talk about them. My kids are still young, six and nine. They understand certain things that are going on, but not entirely everything. 

“For me as a father, that’s probably one of the toughest conversations to ever have with your kids. They all have questions because there’s so much stuff on social media and so much stuff on YouTube, which is what all the kids are watching now. When they see a video pop up with different things that happened… My youngest son, he asked the other day, ‘Why did they kill that man, Daddy?’ It’s hard for me to answer that question because you don’t want to push him into the harsh reality of what it is. But you have to answer those tough questions and you have to have those tough conversations with your kids. It’s definitely hard. What happened is definitely saddening for me but it also scares me to death because I have two young boys.”

Sadder still because the direct onus of those difficult conversations falls on black families far more than their white counterparts. It’s a testament to how ingrained racial biases (at best) and racist practices (at worst) still are, even today.

The hope of Young, Zach LaVine, who spoke on an earlier call, and countless others calling and fighting for change, is that a new dawn is on the horizon. Whether substantive change comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Young emphasized that resolution will come through unity.

“It’s so early right now just to see if there’s going to be change. One of the things that I do see is we have some unity coming,” Young said. “We have some people who are getting together. We have these protests. People are coming out and letting their voices be heard. You have a lot of celebrities and very, very influential people who are following suit. The good thing is we have a lot of people who are speaking up for change and speaking up for freedom and peace. 

“We’re bringing more and more people together. One of the biggest things is to continue to do that. Continue to let our voices be heard. Stay together. Stay unified. And also make sure we do what’s right and steer everybody away from doing what’s wrong.”

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