For most of Wednesday night Kris Dunn looked like everything the Bulls wanted in a point guard of the future. He was attacking the basket, finding open shooters (who were knocking those shots down) and playing his usual aggressive style of defense.
He was the catalyst for a Bulls team that looked ready to end their nine-game winning streak in impressive fashion, going wire-to-wire with a Pacers team that entered the night 7-4 at home.
But for as well as Dunn performed - finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists - what Bulls fans will remember is his inability to close the game in an eventual 98-96 loss.
With the Bulls leading by four with 1:48 to go, Dunn missed badly on a floater, grabbed his own rebound and promptly turned the ball over. That led to a Pacers jumper from Corey Joseph, and Victor Oladipo drained a 3-pointer after Denzel Valentine dribbled the ball over to the Pacers' swingman the previous trip down. Out of a timeout Dunn got stiffed by Oladipo and had to settle for a contest 20-footer from the left wing. That shot missed, and Oladipo hit 1 of 2 free throws.
With a chance to win the game Dunn couldn't initiate the Bulls into any semblance of a set and had to settle for a wild Lauri Markkanen 3, which clanged off the backboard and sent the Bulls to a 10th straight loss.
The two misses and turnover both hurt from Dunn directly, but Valentine's turnover and Markkanen's missed shot can also be attributed to him. Dunn has proven capable of running the offense - he did it superbly for most of the game - but wasn't there down the stretch to make a play or set up a play to help the Bulls close it out.
It washed away a really solid performance from Dunn, who actually stopped a 7-0 run just before that ugly sequence with a drive and layup to push the Bulls back out in front, 96-92.
Dunn scored or assisted on 20 of the Bulls' first 25 points, and he scored eight points in the third quarter to keep the Pacers at bay. He played 34 minutes and half his shots came in the paint (plus three free throws). He was aggressive (one of his turnovers was a charge in the paint) and kept pace with the 9th-fastest offense in the league.
But he couldn't close things for the Bulls when they needed a ball handler and a decision maker. Perhaps it'll be a good lesson for Dunn, who continues to show growth in Year 2. He's averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists over his last five games, shooting 55 percent from the field and 64 percent from deep (9-for-14). There's more good than bad for Dunn this year. Unfortunately we'll remember the bad on Wednesday.
- Denzel Valentine was outstanding in the first half. He finished cold from the field (5 of 13) but really gave the Bulls a spark before halftime. He passed well (three assists) and made an effort to crash the boards, which then initiated the offense. He's not great at any one thing, but he really does contribute in multiple areas.
- For all Valentine did in the first half, it was David Nwaba's show in the second half. The rust from sitting out multiple weeks is clearly gone, as he finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, a steal and a block in 22 minutes. He actually played the most of any Bulls reserve, and even saw first quarter minutes. But he went to work in the second half, and he scored a pair of buckets and added a block and steal in a 3-minute span in the fourth quarter. He'll continue to get minutes.
- The Bulls had five assists in the first 7 minutes of the game, and just 11 more in the final 41 minutes. For whatever reason, ball movement stopped and it really hurt in the second half when shots weren't falling. Again, this can fall on Dunn, although he was attacking and taking what the Indiana defense gave him.
- As Insider Vincent Goodwill noted, Lauri Markkanen seemed to have tired legs tonight. Perhaps it was having to guard the ever-active Thaddeus Young, but his shot looked short almost as soon as it left his hand (1-for-6 from deep) and he wasn't all that physical. He also had three turnovers after just four combined in his last five games. He'll surely bounce back against the Hornets on Friday.