Zach LaVine’s finish in the Bulls’ 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies will draw the headlines, and rightfully so.
LaVine put the Bulls on his back after their 22-point lead had dwindled to one with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining. In leading the Bulls to their first two-game win streak this season, LaVine — deep breath here — sank a 3-pointer out of a timeout, buried a 23-footer, strongly contested a Jae Crowder miss, assisted on a Kris Dunn’s 3-pointer, sank two free throws and assisted on a Lauri Markkanen’s 3-pointer.
In less than three minutes of work, the Bulls’ lead ballooned to 11.
"It's the way I see myself playing. I don't put all this hard work in just to be a regular dude. I expect myself to do this and even more,” LaVine said. “Whatever I have to do to contribute to winning, if that's 10 points or if that’s 40, I'm going to do the best I can with it. I’m in a good place right now. I’m trying to stay in it.”
But there’s another play that occurred late in the first quarter that tells another story about LaVine. Tomas Satoransky — strong again with 13 points, eight assists and six rebounds — rifled an alley-oop to a cutting LaVine. The trajectory of the pass was more on a line than a lob. LaVine not only caught it, but dunked it, despite catching it from far from the basket.
“He made me look good,” Satoransky said, laughing. “We all know how athletic he is. We see it every day. But sometimes you have those plays where you’re like, ‘Wow.’ Even if you’re his teammate.”
The point is this: LaVine’s faults are dissected and discussed plenty — sometimes with good reason. But he still possesses the ability to make plays or author performances — we’re looking at you, Charlotte road victory — that not many players in the league can.
Now that his minutes are increasing and his fourth quarter opportunities are too, LaVine is producing.
“I’ve made plays before. I made a lot of plays last year and even my first year here. I don’t know why they switched up,” LaVine said, alluding to fewer minutes until lately. “Obviously, I’m going to continue to make the plays when my number is called.
“You just know the moment. When opportunity knocks, you gotta open the door. You have to at least to have the courage to step up to it. I’m not scared to take or miss any shot. I do take that upon myself. And I expect myself to make those type of plays.”
LaVine is on quite the roll. That’s four straight games with at least 25 points and three straight games with double-digit free-throw attempts, always a good sign for him. He’s not just scoring, either. He’s scoring efficiently.
He’s shooting 50.4 percent overall over his last six games and 55.5 percent from 3-point range.
“He played the right way, let it come to him,” coach Jim Boylen said. “And then like great players do, he took over at the end when it was his time.”
Boylen has challenged LaVine to be more of a two-way player. That’s why when asked what he liked offensively about LaVine’s recent run, he zigged instead of zagging.
“What I like is what he’s done on the defensive end. I think he’s locked in. He’s guarded the best wing on the other team often in the last five games. He has competed,” Boylen said. “His minutes are up. He’s taking open looks and knocking down shots. He’s getting to the free throw line. He’s working at becoming who we think he can be, a two-way player and winning player.”
That’s two straight wins, with LaVine having his fingerprints all over them.
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