An emotional night at the United Center ended with a 110-109 Bulls victory. Some observations:
Remembering Kobe Bryant
The Bulls organization and fans have collectively showed out to honor Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna from Sunday through the start of this one. A short summary:
The United Center honoring Kobe Bryant tonight 🙏 pic.twitter.com/rUqGYb9ber— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 27, 2020
People have written messages to Kobe outside the United Center pic.twitter.com/H7UZSKhSrV— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 27, 2020
A father and son paying their respects before the game pic.twitter.com/2MqUxy7q8K— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 27, 2020
Salute pic.twitter.com/iORGpnvUAt— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) January 27, 2020
Before Monday's game, the Bulls aired a short tribute video commemorating Bryant, followed by a 24-second moment of silence:
24 seconds of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant ❤️ pic.twitter.com/QMuuHZCIm1— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 28, 2020
‘Kobe!’ chants broke out when each team took respective 8- and 24-second violations to start the game off:
Chants of "Kobe" erupt at the United Center as the Bulls take an 8-second backcourt violation, followed by the Spurs taking a 24-second shot clock violation. pic.twitter.com/dhap6umSzl— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 28, 2020
The team picked Zach LaVine up
But there was a basketball game to be played, too, and it started — understandably — slow. The Spurs led 28-21 after one and held significant advantages shooting the ball (52.6% from the field to the Bulls’ 39.1%) and on the glass (15-8).
The Bulls closed all those gaps in the second quarter thanks to a welcome stretch of solid bench play. At the half, the Bulls’ reserves had 23 points to the Spurs’ 25, led by Coby White (10 points, 5 rebounds) and Denzel Valentine (7 points, 3-for-4 shooting). Five offensive rebounds in the second was a highlight.
After an opening two quarters in which Zach LaVine scored just four points on 1-for-8 shooting, the Bulls led 50-48. That’s encouraging in and of itself, given some of the Bulls’ role players’ propensity for inconsistency (and the team’s general short-handedness).
The third quarter cometh
It was another third quarter that saw a game nearly slip away from the Bulls. The Spurs won the period 37-25 behind 16 third quarter points from DeMar DeRozan, who took the game by the reins for stretches. Patty Mills also notched 11 points coming off a 12-point first half. He finished the night with 25.
The Bulls entered play with the 27th-ranked third quarter point differential in the NBA (-1.5) — a number which will now sink further into the red. They didn’t shoot phenomenally well in the period (44% from the field; 3-for-8 from three), but it was the defense that slipped. The Spurs hit all six of their looks at the rim and all four corner 3-pointers they attempted in the period, which, alone, is 24 points to the 25 the Bulls scored. Jim Boylen won’t be happy with 13 Spurs free throw attempts, either.
A fourth to remember
But the Bulls shook off the third quarter rust with as memorable a fourth quarter as this arena has seen in quite some time.
Both teams came out sharp from long-range; Valentine hit two early 3-pointers to tie a season-high with 16 points, making a strong case for re-entry into the rotation (he finished with 19 minutes and seems to have usurped Shaq Harrison). Then, from the 6:54 mark to the 4:54 mark, the Bulls staged a 12-1 run that flipped a 95-89 deficit into a 101-96 lead.
The UC was loud.
From there, the Spurs pulled back level at 101, and the two played tug-of-war for a tad, with the Bulls employing a little 'hack-a-Poeltl' (the Spurs' starting center finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but made just one of four free throws down the stretch, 2-for-8 on the game). A Thad Young 3 put the Bulls ahead 108-104 with 2:29 remaining, followed by a personal 4-0 DeRozan run to knot the game 108-108.
And the ball was in Zach LaVine’s hands.
He ripped through three Spurs on the Bulls’ ensuing possession, and ended up with the benefit of a late whistle to send him to the free throw line with 2.1 seconds left. He sunk both. After DeRozan was then fouled on the other end (I know, nuts), he bricked the back-end of two free throw attempts. The one he missed would have been his 37th point of the evening. Bulls win. And Jim Boylen moves to 2-0 in his career against Gregg Popovich.
LaVine entered the fourth quarter with just nine points. He finished with 23, scoring 14 in the period on 4-for-8 shooting. He even came up limping on one possession after appearing to roll his ankle. Didn’t matter. It’s hard not to think of Bryant — whom LaVine said earlier today is part of the reason he wears the No. 8 — in reflecting on that outing.
Take anything from this, an emotional game, with as many grains of salt as you wish. But it was a thrilling, short-handed win against a solid team (albeit without LaMarcus Aldridge). On to Indiana Wednesday.