The defense cracked and Kyrie Irving dropped a 50-burger in the Bulls' 133-118 loss to the Nets. Some observations:
Kris Dunn goes down
It took just 13 seconds of this one for the injury bug to bite the Bulls again. Off a Joe Harris charge on the Nets’ first possession of the game, Kris Dunn got his knee trapped under a falling Thad Young and appeared to hyperextend it. Dunn was down on the floor in extreme pain for a few real-time minutes before gingerly limping off the floor.
“It sucks man,” Zach LaVine said after the game. “I always say the worst thing in sports is injuries. He plays through a lot. We already know his background, how tough-minded he is. It sucks seeing anybody get injured, but especially a good friend and someone who has been with me throughout the NBA so far."
Chandler Hutchison replaced Dunn with the starters and finished the night with 22 minutes. On the season, the Bulls’ defensive rating is 103.6 with Dunn on the court and 106.6 with him off, the equivalent of the disparity between the second- and seventh-best defensive ratings in the NBA. Tonight, that dropoff felt more severe.
Kyrie Irving played a pristine basketball game
Being guarded primarily by Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono, Irving positively popped off in this one. He didn’t miss a shot in the first half, going 10-for-10 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3-point range, en route to a cool 27 points. He scored five of those in the last five ticks of the second quarter:
Kyrie Irving just had one of the most ridiculous halves of basketball we've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/py8SbFWo76— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 1, 2020
Irving missed his first shot of the game a minute-and-a-half into the third. Then, he topped his first half point total in the latter one, scoring 28 on 9-for-13 between the third and fourth quarters. He finished the night with 54 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds, just three points off his career high. His 82.6% shooting from the field (19-for-23) represents the best field goal percentage in a 50-point game since Michael Jordan scored 52 on 24-for-29 (82.8%) in 1998. His 54 points is the highest individual output by a Bulls opponent this season. Ridiculous.
"He made 3s, contested 3s. That got him going,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “Early, I thought we needed to pick him up higher. We didn’t. He got into a groove. And sometimes it’s hard to break a guy out of a groove.”
Former Bulls great Spencer Dinwiddie chipped in 20 and seven assists, too, shooting 4-for-7 from 3. Without hardly seeing the floor, Dunn really made his case for MVP of the Bulls tonight.
Feast or famine: The Bulls’ defense story
Dunn’s absence — combined with the Bulls already being without three of their better defensive players in Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford — proved even more costly than Irving and Dinwiddie’s statlines, alone.
As a team, the Nets shot 62.5% from the floor and 48.4% (15-for-31) from 3-point range. That percentage from the field is the highest by any Bulls opponent this year, as are the 50 field goals the Nets canned and 133 points they scored.
Still, the Bulls clawed their way back into the game for a stretch towards the end of the third quarter. They won the third period 39-30 and trailed by just seven entering the fourth, after being down by as many as 21 in the second period. Coincidentally, the Bulls scored 13 points off nine Nets turnovers in the third, and had 19 points off 18 turnovers total entering the fourth.
It illustrates a point made by our fearless leader Kevin Anderson perfectly:
The Bulls are 30th in the league in January for opponent FG%. Opponents are shooting 49.8% vs the Bulls this month.— Kevin Anderson (@Kevin_NBCS) February 1, 2020
Translation the Bulls defense is entirely based on forcing turnovers.
In the fourth, the Nets committed just two coughups and pulled away again. When the turnovers aren't there, the Bulls' defense struggles. This is canon. Though the Bulls rated seventh in defensive rating and first in opponent turnovers per game (18) entering play, they allow the eighth-highest opponent field goal percentage in the league (46.7%). That's a tad ominous, and where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
Zach LaVine keeps plugging
It was a relatively quiet night for LaVine, but he got his. He finished the night with 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting and 8 assists — his 17th game in a row with 20 or more points scored.
LaVine is the first Bull since Michael Jordan to rip a streak of at least 17 games with 20 or more points scored. He wraps a statistically memorable January with a so-so performance in one of the tougher Bulls’ loss of the season (on the heels of a tougher one in Indiana).
Worse, this one was to a team the Bulls should theoretically be competing with for the eighth seed in the East in the Nets. The Bulls have continued to tout the playoffs as an objective, but with each passing day, that goal feels more and more unattainable.
Next up: The Raptors in Toronto.