Woof. On a night the Bulls had an opportunity to make a statement on the state of their season (and rebuild, for that matter), they got run off their home floor 116-108 by the Miami Heat. (It wasn't as close as the score would indicate either.)
A lid on the basket
Remember when the Bulls were a first-quarter team? Tonight, they missed their first eight field-goal attempts and trailed Miami 13-0 at the 8:33 mark of the first. After a Jim Boylen timeout, they finally scored their first points, down 15-0, on a Lauri Markkanen floater with 6:56 left in the frame.
But the damage was done. The Heat finished the first 12-of-18 from the field (8-of-12 from three), leading 34-16. In just a week, the Bulls’ first-quarter point-differential has plummeted from a +42 on Nov. 15 (then first in the NBA) to +10 after tonight, a mark that will likely rank somewhere between 10th and 15th in the league when all of the night’s results are in.
Side note: In his first NBA game at the United Center, Simeon High alum Kendrick Nunn had 13 in the first quarter and finished with 21 on the night.
Bulls fall short of ‘Statement’ performance
A team that prides itself on its hustle, toughness, grit, heart (whatever platitude you prefer), the Bulls came out completely flat in this one.
After showing flashes of prowess on the boards over their last three games, the Bulls were outrebounded 24-12 by Miami in the first half, ceding countless loose balls and turnovers in the process. They also gave up 23 three-point attempts in that half (Miami made 11), the vast majority of which were relatively clean looks. Those disparities stabilized in the second half (especially in the team's late fourth-quarter rally), but garbage time money don’t make money.
With the loss, the Bulls fall to 0-7 against teams with winning records this season. Forget the playoffs — if the Bulls want any aspect of their rebuild or development to be taken seriously, these types of performances can’t happen, especially at home.
LaVine vs. Butler matchup a no contest
Before tonight, Zach LaVine and Jimmy Butler had faced off twice since being traded for each other in June 2017. Each of their averages from those games:
LaVine: 37 pts, 5 reb, 2.5 ast, 50% FG
Butler: 30 pts, 5 reb, 4.5 ast, 41.3% FG
Nothing akin to their past battles occurred tonight. LaVine was conspicuously yanked by Jim Boylen less than four minutes into the game and went on to finish with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
Butler had a solid night, logging 32 minutes even in a blowout and notching 27 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting.
LaVine, of course, wasn’t the only one to blame for this performance. One night after appearing to turn a corner on a disappointing start to the season, Markkanen scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. No other starter finished in double-digits. Ugly all around, but especially for LaVine, who has performed well below the preseason All-Star expectations.
Things that evoked cheers from the UC crowd tonight, ranked
1. Denzel Valentine and a scrappy bench unit leading a slightly-too-little, much-too-late comeback effort late in the fourth quarter to make the final score more respectable than the team probably deserved.
2a. Mascot race.
2b. Dunkin’-sponsored mascot race (Just an electric night from Cuppy Coffee, by the way. And Biggie Bagel is the quintessential heel. I’ll be pitching a column on this next week.)
3. Coby White sinking two straight threes to cut the deficit to 14 midway through the third (this was pretty cool).
4. Lauri Markkanen scoring the Bulls’ first points of the game — trailing 15-0 just over five minutes into the game. Yes, the applause was sarcastic.
5. A fan-made a three in a promotional contest (by a company I can’t recall) during a timeout in the first half. People liked that.
6. Every Kendrick Nunn bucket.
7. Every time Jimmy Butler did legitimately anything.
Bulls look to get on track Saturday night in Charlotte. See you then.
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