With 13 career 40-point games before Friday night, Zach LaVine had openly wondered when his first “50-piece” was coming.
It finally arrived in Atlanta.
But in keeping with the season-long theme of burying the inaccurate narrative that he’s a selfish scorer, LaVine routinely gave up the ball as he faced double- and triple-teams in the second half. And he would have traded it all for a victory.
“It sucks, man,” LaVine said following the Bulls’ late collapse in a 120-108 loss to the Hawks. “I would’ve much rather had a 50-point game in a win than a loss. That’s the salty part about it. But yeah, I’m glad I finally got it.”
LaVine became the fifth Bull in franchise history to post a 50-point game, joining Michael Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Chet Walker and Jamal Crawford. Butler posted two, while Walker and Crawford had one each. Jordan did so a ridiculous 38 times.
“That dude is a ghost,” LaVine said of one of his boyhood idols. “He’s a myth.”
LaVine set a franchise record with 25 straight points in a 39-point first half, the first 30-point first half since Jordan in 1997. Butler posted a 40-point second half in 2016.
But after LaVine’s first-half barrage that marked the third-highest-scoring first half over the last 25 years behind Kobe Bryant and Klay Thompson, he managed just 11 points after halftime as the Hawks completely adjusted their defense.
“I give credit to them,” LaVine said. “Guys get going like that, they made a business call: ‘We’re not going to let this guy beat us.’
"What I saw was toward the end of the second quarter and into the third, they would have a guy guard me full court. They would just jump me at half court with Solomon Hill or (Danilo) Gallinari or (Bogdan) Bogdanović. If one of those guys was guarding me, they’d just bring them off, just pretty much get the ball out of my hand at half court. I was fine with that. We just had to make some more plays.
“We still have to find a way to pull that game out. That’s the upsetting thing.”
LaVine did his part. Beyond his 18-for-31 shooting that featured seven 3-pointers, he added eight rebounds and five assists. He routinely made the right play.
But on a night where Nikola Vučević posted 25 points and 10 rebounds but starters Patrick Williams, Tomáš Satoranský and Thad Young combined for eight points on 4-for-14 shooting, plus myriad defensive issues, it wasn’t enough.
“I don't think I've ever been a part of something like that,” Vučević said of LaVine’s scoring explosion. “It looked so easy. He wasn't forcing. It just came so naturally to him. And it was so efficient. It was beautiful to see.
“I wish that we could've done better and helped win the game and make this night even more special for him. But still, 50 points, you know, whenever you do that, it’s special.”
LaVine even finally conceded that while answering a question that asked him to try to separate the professional from the personal. Professionally, LaVine knows the Bulls lost an important and winnable game.
Personally, he also pretty much knew it was only a matter of time before he bagged a “50-piece.”
“It’s cool man. I had every number in 40 up to this point. So it’s been eluding me,” LaVine said. “There were a couple games where I sat out in the fourth quarter with 40, but it’s like, ‘OK, I would’ve had it this game.’
“Just got in a rhythm. My 3 finally started falling. After that, I could get to my midrange and get to the hoop. I was trying to get to the line a little bit because I was so damn tired, trying to get a little bit of a break. Feels good when you get in those rhythms.”