CHARLOTTE — Give the Bulls this. They’re not boring.
One night after Jim Boylen benched Zach LaVine early and LaVine sounded off about it, LaVine authored a performance for the ages, capping an improbable victory with his franchise-record 13th three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left for a career-high 49 points.
ZACH LAVINE FTW pic.twitter.com/NEDK5SHQPb— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 24, 2019
Bulls 116, Hornets 115. Even many of the players who played in the game couldn’t believe the finish.
The Hornets led by eight with 45.4 seconds left. LaVine sandwiched two 3-pointers, the second of which banked in from 34 feet, around two Terry Rozier free throws. Coby White, who scored a season-high 28 points, scored on a driving layup after Rozier split two free throws. Tomas Satoransky sank a clutch three-pointer with 7 seconds left after Devonte Graham sank two free throws.
And then White, Ryan Arcidiacono and LaVine all swarmed Graham on the ensuing inbounds, with White getting credited for a steal that even the principal defenders said was impossible to attribute. The loose ball caromed to LaVine, who eschewed a layup and, a la Reggie Miller, dribbled out to the three-point line and let it fly.
“Sato hit a big three. We doubled the ball. Arch knocked it away or something happened. And I just pretty much said, ‘(Expletive) it. I’m going for the game,’” LaVine said. “Once I shot it, I knew it was cash. That was the craziest game I’ve been a part of.”
In as boisterous a postgame locker room as there has been all season, Thaddeus Young, in an old school move, loudly petitioned for LaVine to star in a new NBA “Where Amazing Happens” commercial. Arcidiacono asked if anybody noticed if he and LaVine combined for 49 points. White said he couldn’t stop shaking.
“I’ve been a part of a crazy game with the national championship in college. But this is just a ridiculous performance by Zach and a tough, gritty win by our team,” said Arcidiacono, who closed over an ineffective Lauri Markkanen. “Keep fighting until there’s zero on the clock. You never know what can happen if you play hard.”
LaVine and Boylen met in Boylen’s hotel suite Saturday afternoon to discuss their issues. That LaVine responded by joining Klay Thompson and Steph Curry as the only three players in NBA history to make 13 three-pointers in a game needs to be more than a band-aid. It can’t be a temporary fix.
The Bulls need to build on such an improbable and thrilling victory.
“When you have a turnaround game like this, hopefully it can be a turnaround for our season,” Satoransky said. “We haven’t won two [games] in a row. That’s our focus for Monday. This comeback shows you we can believe in each other.”
Make no mistake. Issues remain. The Bulls’ aggressive defensive coverages repeatedly left three-point shooters wide open or led to uncontested dunks. The Hornets, who trailed by 14 points in the first half, shot 68.4 percent in the second half.
And what to do about Markkanen? He missed eight of nine shots, scored a meager three points and went up to the scorer’s table in the fourth quarter, only to be called back during a timeout and sat for Arcidiacono.
“We had just made a three and I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” Boylen said about his personnel decision. “Lauri didn’t do anything wrong. There wasn’t an issue. It was just that that group was rolling. I kind of went with my gut and feel. We were giving them some two-pointers in the post but because of our small lineup, we were getting three-pointers on the other end.”
About those three-pointers: The Bulls sank a franchise-record 22. None were bigger than LaVine’s game-winner, which he equated to hitting a walkoff homerun.
“I just blacked out. We were celebrating, talking a lot, lot of explicit words running off the court. It was fun, man. That’s an unbelievable win,” LaVine said. “Shooters shoot. I got hot and kept putting them in the basket. I didn’t know how many I had. I just knew I was going to keep shooting them.”
LaVine acknowledged the need for this victory not to represent a stopgap, the need to build on such an unlikely finish.
“This is a big game for us, morally. Everybody’s energy is up,” he said. “We’ve been playing good in stretches. We just executed perfectly down the stretch. Obviously, we got blessed a little with some luck. We can take this energy and move this on to the next game, keep this energy high. Hopefully this is that turning point for us. Every team has one. This could be a big step for us in the right direction.”
That’s the thing: Controversy drops back below the surface when teams win. It’s on the Bulls to make sure that continues.
“He is always good when we coach him and talk to him,” Boylen said of LaVine’s crazy 24 hours from Friday to Saturday. “He wants to play better. I want him to play better. And I am really happy for him.”
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