Bulls

Jim Boylen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter react to deflating loss to Warriors

Jim Boylen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter react to deflating loss to Warriors

At 11:52 p.m. Central time Wednesday, the final buzzer blared on the Bulls’ most demoralizing loss of the 2019 season, yet: a 104-90 unraveling at the hands of the Warriors.

Eight minutes later, the clock struck midnight on Thanksgiving Eve and, perhaps with it, the Bulls rebuild.

Losing games is one thing. The Bulls, for their part, are well-acquainted with the concept. Wednesday night’s loss marked the team’s 13th defeat in 19 games to open the 2019 season; the 54th of the 77th game (and counting) of the Jim Boylen era; the 128th in 2 1/4 seasons since shipping Jimmy Butler to Minnesota in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen. 

But losing this game? A game against a team that entered the contest with the NBA’s worst record (3-15) and without four starters (two of whom are future hall of famers)? A game in which the lowest-rated defensive team in the league both outrebounded the Bulls 54-42 and held them to 27.6 points below their previous opponents’ season average? A game that kicked off a road trip flush with supposedly winnable games, at a do-or-die juncture in terms of turning this season around?

That’s quite different.

“I think at times we're very confident, I think at times we struggle with that. I think that's what young teams do. And I go back to consistency. You know, we're looking for consistency,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “We had some really good moments tonight, again, and we battled. It was a physical, hard-fought game. They made some plays at the end that we didn't. And that was the difference.”

And on the plan, moving forward?

“You just go to work the next day, that's all you do. You go to work the next day,” Boylen continued. “There's no shame in this game tonight. We played hard and we competed and we battled and we're gonna do the same thing, we're gonna practice tomorrow, we're gonna have some turkey and we're gonna play Friday… This is not the defining moment of our season. We're gonna keep playing.”

 

Only in some ways this loss seems to perfectly define this Bulls season, in brutally microcosmic fashion. In the game, Boylen trotted out 13 players for at least five minutes (with the exception of Chandler Hutchison, who left the game early in the first with an apparent shoulder injury), but the Bulls bench was outscored 35-19. 

Markkanen, more maligned with each passing day, attempted only 10 shots in 25 minutes, scoring eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. Kris Dunn fouled out early in the fourth quarter with zero points. Coby White shot 0-for-7 from the field. Wendell Carter struggled with foul trouble.

“They're a physical team,” Boylen said. “I thought in the first quarter that kind of shook us a little bit. Then I thought the game under control and we battled back and had a hell of a second quarter, and then we came out in the third and I thought we battled.”

At the heart of that second quarter resurgence was Zach LaVine. In fact, he has been at the heart of every competitive stretch the Bulls have played in their last three games. Tonight, he scored 36 points on 54.9% shooting (44.4% from three) with five rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He attempted twice as many shots (24) as the next closest Bull (Tomas Satoransky with 12).

Once again, LaVine played well enough to win, and once again, it wasn’t enough.

“I think every loss you should be upset about. I don't think you should be ashamed about any loss, but you should be upset every time you lose the game,” LaVine said when asked about Boylen saying the Bulls shouldn’t be ashamed of the performance. “If we lose to the worst team or the best team in the league, or if you lose by one or 25, it's still an L.

“This is the Golden State Warriors, man, they have championship class, they got championship coaching, you know, they still have veteran players on the team, so there's no shame in any of that, they still played their game.”

But those were only the ‘championship-class’ Warriors in name and uniform. Sure, Draymond Green suited up for the hosts and posted a vintage statline of seven points, eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. But the rest of his castmates are largely unfamiliar. Eric Paschall. Omari Spellman. Marquese Chriss. Alec Burks. 

These are fine NBA players. They do not comprise a roster that the Bulls — given the level of expectation for this season — should be walking away from proud for having simply “competed” with. This was a game they could have and should have won. 

Wendell Carter acknowledged that fact after the game, further cementing themselves as a stalwart locker-room presence beyond his age:

Now, fans and pundits will begin to turn up the heat. And they should. But the Bulls are also wise to shut that noise out. The players can only control what they can control, after all, and right now, that needs to be exacting vengeance on Portland this Friday.

Boylen says they will keep going to work. LaVine, in a way, echoed that sentiment.

“I try to keep everybody up, you know, especially in the huddles in stuff like that. Each day is a new day, a new game,” LaVine said. “This can flip at any time. You just gotta be confident, you gotta think that way, you know, you can't think negatively.

“Any outside people trying to bring us down, you know, I don't even want to listen to it, cause you gotta psych yourself out to get out of a rut sometimes. And I think that's what we're in right now, a little bit of a rut. But I still believe we can get ourselves out of it.”

The longer this malaise drags on, the more difficult the questions that need answering will become.

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'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

Entering play, it had all the makings of a dismal affair. Bulls-Cavaliers. One a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference; the other an underachieving squad enduring an injury influenza. 

By game's end, it was anything but. Thank you, Zach LaVine. 

LaVine authored another chapter in what has become a sensational season Saturday night, tallying 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 16-for-30 shooting (3-for-5 on 3-pointers) en route to a 118-106 Bulls victory.

"All-Star performance," head coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I thought he was just unbelievable. Driving it, shooting it, creating. He got backdoor cuts, he got it in all different ways."

This was LaVine's fourth 40-point game of the season (tied for third in the NBA), and with it, he is now averaging 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 48.4/37/81.4 shooting splits in the month of January. If you're not satisfied with that 14-game sample size: Since his record-smashing explosion against Charlotte on Nov. 23 (32 games) that stat line reads 28.2 points (tied for fifth in the NBA), 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 46.1/40.6/83.

Those numbers are phenomenal — especially on supserstar volume — and are made even more impressive by the Bulls' offensive struggles around him. Tonight, in spite of 19 points, six assists and 8-for-11 shooting from Tomas Satoransky and spot buckets all around, the Bulls scored at a rate of just 77.8 points per 100 possessions with LaVine off the floor. With him on: 128.4. 

That differential should knock you out of your chair, and that off-rating is actually improved from the team's 66.3 mark without LaVine in Friday's 99-81 loss to Sacramento. LaVine logged 39 minutes against the Cavaliers after saying he was "prepared" for any amount of increase in playing time just one night prior. 

"He was frustrated after last night, our team was frustrated, and I thought he responded, and I think that's what good players do," Boylen said.

LaVine's aforementioned 13 3-pointer outburst against the Hornets came one night after being yanked from a blowout loss to the Heat for what Boylen called "three egregious defensive errors." In Cleveland, he nearly amassed his first career triple double the night after — arguably — the Bulls' most lackluster offensive performance of the season.

"We didn’t come out to play the right way [against Sacramento], I just wanted to come out more aggressive," LaVine said. "Different mentality, the whole team, we were upset about the loss, and I took it upon myself to come out there and just be aggressive."

Asked if he was cognizant of his progress towards a triple double, LaVine said he discovered too late.

"I ain’t have one before," he said. "Literally, like, two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists. But the game got out of hand, so I’ll get one eventually."

But even without that milestone, the improvements to LaVine's all-around game are notable. Since Wendell Carter Jr. went down with a high ankle sprain on Jan. 6, LaVine is the Bulls' leading rebounder, averaging six boards per game. Against Cleveland, he amassed five of his eight assists in the third quarter as the Cavaliers threw some aggressive defensive looks at him — including being guarded by Tristan Thompson on multiple occasions. He didn't just facilitate, he adjusted in the flow of the game.

"Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention," LaVine said. "I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

So, for now, the Bulls stay afloat. Wiping out the Cavaliers is no hefty feat, especially for a team that maintains playoff aspirations. But it's a nice response to the Sacramento dud, and LaVine's night gives him another notch in both his All-Star and general supserstar cases.

"He wants to be great," Boylen said.

He could very well be on his way.

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

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USA Today

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

The Bulls got back in the win column with a 118-106 road victory over the Cavaliers, and Zach LaVine is ridiculous. Here's some observations:

Zach LaVine did it again

Whatever happens over the rest of this Bulls season, don’t put it at the feet of Zach LaVine. If you take one thing away from this one, make it that.

LaVine was simply tremendous tonight. He finished with a cool 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of play, and shot 16-for-30 from the field (5-for-12 from three; 7-for-8 from the free throw line). After the Bulls fell to the Kings on Friday, LaVine said he was fully prepared for any amount of advanced opportunity that might come his way. He proved that tonight. The Cavaliers threw the kitchen sink (and Tristan Thompson, for a couple possessions) at him, and it didn't matter.

"Just playing the game the way it should be," LaVine said of his performance. "Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention.

"I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

LaVine entered the fourth quarter with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists but was unable to clinch his first career triple double. He did make a modicum of history, though: 

Yeah, getting those last two assists would have been a cool milestone. But Bulls fans will take the sublime scoring performance — and victory — and run with it. LaVine’s fourth 40-point outing of the season doesn’t hurt his All-Star chances, either.

"I ain’t have one before," LaVine said when asked if he was aware of how close he was to a triple double. "Literally like two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists, but the game got out of hand. I’ll get one eventually."

A bunch of good things happened in the third quarter

I’ve harped on it more than a few times this season, but the Bulls are not a good third quarter team. Their 27th-ranked -8.3 third quarter net rating proves it.

Tonight was different. The Bulls pounded the Cavaliers 40-19 in the third period, extending a two-point halftime lead to 23 entering the fourth.

To put it simply: Everything went right. The Bulls turned eight Cavaliers turnovers into 13 points, shot 16-for-21 (76.2%) from the field, 3-for-5 from three and slung 10 assists in those 12 minutes, alone. And though LaVine carried the load in the first half, the Bulls got 28 points in the third from the non-LaVine contingent of the team — a positive development.

"We’ve struggled in the third [quarter] as you all know. I was happy with the way we played in the third, I thought the ball moved, I thought we made good decisions, we finished plays," coach Jim Boylen said.

Notably, Tomas Satoransky finished the night with a fully-stuffed stat line of 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals on 8-for-11 shooting. The Bulls’ second-scorer problem is still a pressing one, but we’ll put it aside for another night. 

Let’s have fun with this one

This win doesn’t assuage most any of the darkest clouds hanging over the Bulls. The Cavaliers are a disastrous team — rated in the bottom eight of the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, and with the league’s highest turnover rate (Cleveland committed 21 cough-ups tonight). And yet, they shot 50% from the floor, 43.3% from the 3-point line and both outrebounded and out-assisted the Bulls. 

But given the mounting adversity facing this team, this game is one fans can afford to have some fun with. The Zach LaVine Show marches on, and will continue to be worth watching.

"I said before the game that our team was frustrated after last night’s game [against Sacramento] and I thought we responded. And I’m really happy for that," Boylen said. "We felt we left some stuff on the table and that we could’ve played better, and we talked about that and we moved on."

Next stop: the UC for the Spurs on Monday.

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