The first time the Bulls played the Golden State Warriors this season, they lost 149-124 and the trouble started when they went down 44-28 after the first quarter. This was a game in which the Bulls starting lineup was without Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and many—Zach LaVine and present company included—expected things to be better with the full starting lineup available.
We were wrong.
In Friday night’s game at Oracle Arena, the Bulls had an even worst first period than the last time out. The Bulls fell behind 43-17, which—via our Chris Kamka—is the Bulls worst first quarter point differential in franchise history.
Klay Thompson, who set a NBA single-game record for 3-pointers (14) the last time out, went 3/3 from the 3-point line in the first quarter (and 7/11 for the game), with the Dubs clearly seeking him out early and often, clearly remembering how things went last time out.
The Bulls woke up in the second quarter, winning that period 38-33. It was an awesome display of offensive skill from Zach LaVine, who went 7/8 from the field, which included going 3/4 from the 3-point line and 3/3 from the free throw line.
In the second quarter the Bulls got to the free throw line nine times, perhaps the only thing they did well against Golden State. Chicago finished the night with more free throw attempts (34) and points in the paint (46) than the Dubs, something that no doubt pleases Jim Boylen. But after playing some solid defense since Boylen took over, the Bulls have started to slip precipitously in terms of defensive rating and intensity.
Remember those defensive improvements that Boylen was creating?— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 12, 2019
Bulls D is now ranked 24th (111.5) since Boylen took over. They were 23rd under Hoiberg (110.6). Offense has also gotten worse under Boylen. And he's had WAY better personnel to work with.
This game wasn’t extremely important for the Bulls coming into the night. They were 15.5-point underdogs and played as such. But with that 15.5-point margin predicted by sportsbooks, losing by 37 is as good of a sign as any that something is amiss.
Lauri Markkanen—in yet another frustrating performance—only had eight shot attempts in 26 minutes. This came after Markkanen had double-digit shot attempts in nine straight games.
Yes, the Warriors did a good job at being physical with Markkanen and denying him the ball in his favored spots, but something's got to give.
We never advocate for a player to “ballhog” or take bad shots, but with Markkanen taking eight shots in a game, the Bulls would be unlikely to have a chance against the Knicks or Cavaliers, let alone the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
Out of the few positives in this game, LaVine having his first 20+ point first half of the season was the biggest one. He finished the game with 29 points on 62.5 percent shooting even though he only played seven minutes in the second half due to the Bulls being out of this one early.
So Boylen at least deserves some credit for not wearing out his starters on the first night of a back-to-back amid what will be a brutally tough road trip for these young Bulls.
But for this road trip to be considered a success, the Bulls don’t even have to win a single game. All they need to do—as Jim Boylen would say—is compete, which we did not see them do on Friday night.
At this juncture of the season, the most important thing for the Bulls front office to do is evaluate exactly what they have on their roster. But it makes it tough to evaluate the roster if the players get discouraged this easily in games, even if it against the league’s elite squads.
Hall of Famer Phil Jackson stated that his father once told him, “You can only stay in one place five years and then your message starts falling on deaf ears.” It’s only been 18 games for the Boylen regime but we have already seen some incredibly high highs and some embarrassingly low lows. But with such a young, rebuilding squad, ups and downs are all a part of the process.
This road trip—in which the Bulls will be heavy underdogs every night—has three more stops before they play the Heat at the United Center on January 19. And regardless of the score(s), the Bulls effort on a quarter-to-quarter basis will the top thing to look for, lest there be more “boots to asses.”