Observations: White breaks slump in Bulls' loss to Grizzlies

/ by Rob Schaefer
Presented By Coors Light

The Bulls (22-33) lost another game in rather resounding fashion, this one 126-115 to the Memphis Grizzlies (28-26) at the United Center.

The losing streak stretches to five.

Here are 16 observations:

1. Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bulls are in a state of massive flux. Zach LaVine is shelved on the COVID-19 protocol list for at least 10-14 days. Tomáš Satoranský -- another starter -- missed Friday's contest with an illness that Billy Donovan said is not COVID-related. And what little practice time the team could find in the league's condensed calendar was wiped because of LaVine's protocol entry on Thursday.

"This is gonna be kind of another curveball," Donovan said of LaVine's absence before the game, though he could have been referring to any of the above.

2. Donovan later added that circumstances would necessitate the Bulls adjusting from a lineup and schematic perspective. That showed up on the starter sheet immediately:

White and Temple slid in for the sidelined Satoranský and LaVine. But Theis for Thad Young is a bigger change, and one that, listening to Donovan speak, sounded more motivated by giving the bench a spark.

"The last couple of games, one of the things I thought we were maybe losing a little bit was I think Thad has been somebody who really has played in the pocket, playmaked quite a bit for our team and has really been a facilitator," Donovan said. "I just felt like it would maybe be an opportunity for him (Young) to help that second unit with Zach being out, because we were staggering Zach and [Nikola Vučević]."


That's the Bulls' 12th different starting lineup of the season. And Donovan's strategy worked to a degree, which we'll get to later.

3. Donovan also emphasized pregame that replacing LaVine's production would have to be a collective effort rather than an individual one. But White did his best impression of the All-Star guard. He got off to a fast start, scoring 11 points and handing out two assists in the first quarter. He shot well (3-for-4 from 3-point range) and ran pick-and-rolls responsibly, especially with Vučević.

White poured in another 11 with two dimes in the third, and finished with 27 points on 8-for-17 shooting (4-for-8 from 3), his first 20-spot since before the All-Star break (March 3 vs. the Pelicans). Crucially: His seven assists came with just one turnover. A really good, confident showing for him.

"I was just trying to get the team organized and try to get the best shot available," White said. "My mindset didn’t really change (with LaVine out). Just trying to move the ball and get the best shot for the offense and the team."

4. The Bulls' offense hummed early, scoring 33 points in the first quarter with the help of 6-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. They exited the first frame knotted 33-33, and opened the second on a 10-2 run to pull ahead 43-35, an expectation-exceeding development given the circumstances. They were 8-for-12 from 3 when the Grizzlies whistled for a timeout at the 10:08 mark of the second.

5. The Grizzlies responded by outscoring the Bulls 22-14 in the rest of the second quarter to enter the half again tied 57-57. The Bulls shot 1-for-7 from 3 over the final ten minutes of the second, and the Grizzlies turned nine turnovers into 11 points in the first half, overall.

6. The Bulls ran a lot of offense through their bigs, natural given the absence of LaVine and the team's logjam in the frontcourt. At the half, Vučević (five), Lauri Markkanen (four) and Theis (one) were responsible for 10 of the Bulls' 15 assists. Hunting mismatches, and capitalizing on off-the-ball action, was a focus.

With Thad Young's four second-half helpers included, the Bulls' four frontcourt staples finished with 17 of the team's 34 assists.

7. The Bulls held the Grizzlies to just 43.2 percent shooting in the first half, strong for a team that has seen defense ail them of late. But Memphis shot 66.7 percent (5-for-8 from 3) in a third quarter it won 37-28 to enter the fourth ahead 94-85. An 18-9 run to open the final frame made it 112-94, and they hardly looked back.


8. The Grizzlies entered play second in the NBA in fast-break (15.8) points per game. Their ideal recipe came to fruition tonight -- they outscored the Bulls 26-3 in transition. Thirty-two points from Dillon Brooks -- and five others in double-figures -- helped.

9. The Grizzlies won the second half 69-58, outshooting the Bulls 63.4 percent to 46.9 percent.

"Clearly for us the biggest challenge tonight was on the defensive end of the floor," Donovan said.

10. Vučević notched his 37th double-double on the season -- seventh with the Bulls -- with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, though he struggled with efficiency (9-for-22 shooting).

11. The Bulls' bench started strong, leading the team's late-first-to-early-second-quarter surge. Young ended the first half with eight points and four rebounds, and the night with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. Though Young has scored in single-figures in three of his last five games, the two double-digit outings were against Memphis.

12. But Denzel Valentine (11 points, three turnovers) and Lauri Markkanen (three points, 1-for-7 shooting, 1-for-6 from 3-point range), after early spurts, provided little in the minutes that mattered. For Markkanen, it continues a trend of poor play in severely cut-back minutes. He has now scored 22 points on 5-for-12 shooting total -- total! -- over the Bulls' five-game losing streak.

13. The non-Young reserve consolation was Troy Brown Jr., who scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in his 19 minutes despite early foul trouble. 

14. Patrick Williams took eight shots, his most in a game since March 31, but made just three of them, good for six points. He also pulled down six rebounds. With all the necessary caveats about this unprecedented NBA season embedded: The Bulls would benefit from more production from him, and less hesitance on open jump-shot opportunities. For development purposes if nothing else.

15. Ryan Arcidiacono saw his first run non-garbage time run since last month, logging 15 minutes. He scored just four points, but did draw a charge on his first defensive possession and was part of the unit -- featuring Temple, Valentine, Young and Markkanen -- that jumped ahead in the second.

16. Satoranský had been listed as probable with back spasms, but was ultimately ruled out because of the illness, which Donovan said the veteran guard was dealing with throughout Thursday night and Friday morning. As of pregame, his status for Saturday's home matchup with the Cavaliers was uncertain. Donovan said the team would have a better feel Saturday morning.

Standings update: The Bulls move to 11th in the East with the loss, behind the now-10th-place Raptors (23-34) by one win, and tied by record with the Wizards.

"The standings are just a snapshot of today... It will probably continue to change and move. For us, it’s about trying to find ways to win games and play well," Donovan said. "Now that we’ve fallen out, we’re no longer in control of our destiny. And for a good portion of the season, we have been. We’re going to have to focus on what we can control."


Seventeen regular-season games remain. Next up for the Bulls: Home against the Cavaliers -- who lurk two games back of that triumvirate -- for the second night of a back-to-back Saturday.

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