This Zach LaVine guy might be pretty good, huh? The Bulls beat a depleted Clippers team 109-106 Saturday night at the United Center. Here are some observations:
Bigs bounce back
After enduring a mostly rough night at the office on Friday against Charlotte, the Bulls’ bigs bounced back tonight — at least on the offensive end.
The 'Thad Young Minutes Watch' marches on; he checked in unusually early (at the 7:28 mark of the first) for Wendell Carter, and played extremely well in the first half. His 10 first quarter points (5-for-7 shooting), cutting and general activity undoubtedly sparked the Bulls after a sluggish start. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 shots in 20 minutes.
Wendell Carter Jr. was doing Wendell Carter Jr. things, as well. He had two crucial offensive rebounds in the first half — one he prettily dished straight to Young for a cutting dunk, the other he powered home for a putback. He got into foul trouble late, picking up his fifth foul just two minutes into the fourth quarter, and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. He had a key alley-oop and putback late in the game and finished with 36 minutes.
Lauri Markkanen finished the night with only 13 points and eight field goal attempts but snatched 17 rebounds in 40 minutes of game action. His up-and-down season — both in terms of opportunity and production — continues.
Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Clippers 50-40 for the game, a surprising result.
The Clippers dominated most of the first half — even without Paul George
For a time, it looked as if Paul George was going to have an easygoing night. He tallied eight first quarter points — and looked smooth in doing so — then didn’t check back in until the 4:08 mark of the second. The Clippers built a 14-point lead without him.
Credit Montrezl Harrell, in large part for that. He ate the Bulls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his first half minutes, notching 17 points on 14 field goal attempts (five from the charity stripe) before the break. Jim Boylen talked about needing more ‘physicality’ from his bigs. Harrell hunted one-on-one matchups against them all night (off-the-dribble, in the post, you name it), with Carter being the only Bull to offer much resistance. He finished with a whopping 30 points on 24 shots.
The Bulls starters closed the half on a 17-5 run to pull to within 57-55 at the break — incidentally, that run took place over the course of the 4 minutes, 8 seconds that George logged in the second quarter.
The starters sparked a massive run
That aforementioned spurt carried over, for a time; the Bulls started the second half with a 20-4 run and led 75-61 halfway through the third. The defense tightened up, the offense was free, loose and fluid, and the starters catalyzed it all. LaVine had 10 in the quarter.
Between George checking in in the second quarter and that point in the third, the Bulls outscored the Clippers 37-11, shooting 10-for-16 from the field, compared to 4-for-16 for LA.
But, as with all things — good and bad — that stretch passed, and it passed quickly. After a questionably-timed Boylen timeout with 5:48 left in the period (and the Bulls leading 75-63), the Clippers closed the gap to 84-79 entering the fourth. The Clippers switching to zone defense midway through the period seemed to trip the Bulls up, as well.
A hard-fought fourth quarter finally swings the Bulls’ way
It was Paul George vs. Zach LaVine down the stretch. The winners? The Bulls and everyone watching, both at the United Center and at home.
George entered the fourth quarter only having played 21 minutes and was fresh for the stretch run, scoring 10 in the final period. But he did, crucially, miss a free throw with just over a minute remaining that would have put the Clippers up 107-103. On the next possession, Markkanen tracked down a loose ball of a rebound and kicked to Denzel Valentine for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to knot the game 106-106. George’s last two field goal attempts of the game were a wild fling at the rim and a bricked iso jumper, both in the final minute.
LaVine had nine points in the fourth (31 for the game), every one monumental. He canned an and-one 3-pointer (missed the free throw) with just over five minutes left in the game that put the Bulls up 96-95. Then, a deep off-the-dribble 3-pointer to pull the Bulls within 105-103. And, of course, the game-winner:
It was an exhilarating finish, and a win the Bulls had to have. The blemishes on it are obvious — yes, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly, and the defensive lapses and stretches of inconsistency that have plagued the Bulls all season were there, at times. But ultimately, entering their upcoming four-game road trip 10-18 feels a whole lot better than 9-19. (And the Bulls beat a team over .500!)
On to Oklahoma City on Monday.
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