Ahead of the Chicago Bulls' final home game of the 2021-22 regular season — a Friday night date with the Charlotte Hornets — Zach LaVine took center court to thank fans for their season-long support.
"You guys have been the best crowd in the world," LaVine told the 21,461 in attendance before urging them to carry that energy over to the playoffs, which begin April 16.
But then it was a visibly aggravated LaVine fielding a postgame question about those same fans booing his team multiple times during its latest blowout loss, a 133-117 drubbing that featured as much as a 37-point deficit early in the third quarter.
"To be honest, they should (boo). It's embarrassing," he said. "We're a really good basketball team and we're not playing like it. They (the fans) know that. We know that. It's understandable. We understand they (the fans) have our back. But we have to play better."
It was jarring to hear the fans' vociferous displeasure with a team that entered play with a 27-13 record in Chicago this season, and has enjoyed some raucous home crowds in the past.
But their patience — like the Bulls' play — has deteriorated.
The defeat dropped the Bulls to 7-15 since the All-Star break — and their performance on Friday was truly abysmal. Charlotte sprinted out to an opponent season-high 79 points in the first half, benefitting from defensive breakdowns and ball-security miscues galore. Head coach Billy Donovan waved the proverbial white flag by subbing in his reserves before the fourth quarter even began.
The Bulls were booed four times during the contest: After three Donovan timeout calls — one while trailing 55-32 at the 8:20 mark of the second quarter, another down 67-39 at 3:56, and another after Mason Plumlee picked off a DeMar DeRozan pass and took it the other way for a layup to extend Charlotte’s lead to 37 — and as the team trotted off to the halftime locker room.
"I always try to be uplifting and try to see the bright side, but I'm just tired of talking," LaVine said. "We say a lot of words and we say the right things. But we gotta figure it out. Plain and simple. Everybody. Top to bottom. Coaching staff, everybody's involved."
Friday not only marked the team's fourth consecutive loss, but their fourth consecutive laugher. First, the Heat engineered an 18-point victory on Saturday, then the Bucks a 21-point rout on Tuesday, then the Celtics a 23-point win on Wednesday before the Hornets' 16-point victory on Friday.
All came on the Bulls' home court, and all came with the postseason rapidly approaching.
"We just gotta do a better job, because it's (the playoffs) right around the corner," LaVine said. "We can't let this happen. It's embarrassing."
How, in LaVine's words, a "frustrated" Bulls locker room can cure their ails with only one regular-season game left remains to be seen.
But, at the very least, he vowed to go down swinging.
"We're ready to get back on that horse," LaVine said of the team's mentality. "I'm gonna fight. I'm gonna go down swinging either way. I'm not just gonna lay down for anybody. I hope everybody is like that too."