Bulls

Zach LaVine pushed controversy aside in miracle win over Hornets, but the Bulls' season is far from saved

Zach LaVine pushed controversy aside in miracle win over Hornets, but the Bulls' season is far from saved

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.

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.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls loss to the Bucks, pick their lineups for the 2020 All-Star game, and discuss acceptable basketball tattoos.

1:00 - The difference between the Bucks and Bulls is staggering

3:20 - What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

5:00 - How bad does Zach LaVine's back hurt after carrying this squad?

6:30 - Jim Boylen just refuses to play Denzel Valentine

8:30 - Why do the Bulls keep falling apart in the 2nd half?

10:00 - Which players progressed for the Bulls this season?

12:00 - Viewer comment about Bulls playoff chances

15:10 - The guys pick their starters for the 2020 All Star Game

21:45 - Viewer comments about Spencer Dinwiddie/Derrick Rose

24:20 - David Kaplan got a tattoo!

25:30 - If you had to get a basketball tattoo what would it be

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

MILWAUKEE — When Thad Young played for the Pacers, this was, according to Young, that team’s scouting report on Lauri Markkanen:

“He’s a guy who can score in different levels of the game. He can shoot the midrange. He can take you off the dribble and do his hanging fade to get his shot off. Or he can step behind the line and tee up some 3s,” Young said. “So we tried to keep him seeing bodies so he wouldn’t take the ball from one side to the other.”

Markkanen’s struggles — and the Bulls’ usage of him — is becoming an almost daily storyline. It certainly dominated Monday’s postgame questioning after the Bulls dropped to 1-18 versus winning teams with a 111-98 loss to the Bucks.

For the second time in three games, Markkanen failed to score in the second half. Seven of his 11 attempts came from 3-point range — all of which he missed. His eight points came from two putbacks and four free throws.

That’s it.

“He missed some shots he normally makes. That happens,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was moving well. He had a couple great cuts to the basket, opportunities at the rim. That’s what we want from him — inside, outside.”

But that’s not happening enough. Fifty-three percent of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been 3-pointers. That’s up 11.5 percent from last season and 4.1 percent from his rookie season.

Too often, Markkanen is being relegated to playing as a stationary, 3-point shooter and not the dynamic, multifaceted scorer for whom Young’s Pacers teams prepared.

“Yeah, I think I can do a lot of good things besides just shoot threes,’’ Markkanen said. “Haven’t really been able to do that lately. Just have to figure out the way I can attack the rim more and get to the free-throw line. I need to figure out my spots.”

This is not meant to fully absolve Markkanen, who has indeed missed open looks consistently this season. For the second straight game, Markkanen joked about how Boylen called a play for him on the first possession, only for Markkanen to turn it over.

Markkanen also again acknowledged the sore left ankle he is playing through as he tries to reach his well documented goal of playing all 82 games. Markkanen called the ankle “not normal but getting there” and also shook off banging knees with Donte DiVincenzo that left him running hobbled for a few possessions.

Markkanen said he has no problem talking to Boylen about his usage and, as is his nature, looked inward.

“We’ve talked about it. He ran some plays for me. I turned it over. He does run some stuff for me. I just have to make the plays,” he said. “If you shoot the ball like [I have], you don’t really deserve touches. Can’t really complain.

“When you’re feeling it and actually making shots, it would be good to get closer to the rim and kind of keep it going. A lot of our plays I screen and pop.’’

The Bulls tied their franchise record with 48 3-point attempts. Boylen said that was the gameplan since opponents averaged 40 3-point attempts and 17.5 makes in the Bucks’ mere six losses.

Never mind that even if the Bulls hadn’t gone ice cold in the second half to finish with 14 makes that adding 3.5 more makes would’ve still left them on the losing end. The Markkanen problem is bigger than a math problem.

“I think the system complements him to the point where he has a lot of freedom to do different things,” Young said. “If he’s open, he takes a 3. If he’s not, he tries to make a play. He’s doing the best he can, just like me and any other guy on this roster. He has to continue to believe in what we’re doing.”

Markkanen now has nine single-digit scoring games after posting just four last season. He has nine 20-point games after registering 22 last season.

This is a huge season for Markkanen not only because his success is tied into the success of the Bulls’ rebuild but also because he’ll be eligible for an extension of his rookie contract following this season.

“I know he’s going to work. And he cares. He has high character,” Boylen said. “I believe in him. And our team believes in him.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.