The Bulls’ bench had been a warning sign even during this team’s unexpected start, but it was only a matter of time before it came back to bite them
And with the Los Angeles Lakers in town, on a back-to-back after taking a whipping from the New Orleans Pelicans, it didn’t seem likely this would be the night for the Bulls to start off what could be a fruitful home stretch with fruit flies.
But the gnats were all around in the Bulls’ 96-90 loss at the United Center Wednesday, starting from the second quarter and ending with Jimmy Butler’s airballed 3-point attempt that could’ve tied the game with under 20 seconds left, a play where Butler found himself open on in a similar fashion as their late loss in Denver a week ago when Butler didn’t get a chance to tie it late.
“I let it go like I did the other one; It came up short,” Butler said. “I guarantee you it won’t be the last time I take a shot like that. Hopefully it’ll be the last I miss one but I doubt it. I’ll probably miss another one.”
It was an ugly finish to an ugly night for the Bulls, after allegedly heeding the age-old warning about the first game back from a long road being a tough one. They took a 14-point lead in the first but it disappeared when the second units stepped on the floor and the Bulls were in a dogfight for the better part of the last 40 minutes.
“It goes to show you, you don’t go out and play with energy, you’re not gonna give yourself a chance,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It didn’t even look like the same team. The turnovers in the second half, mindless, careless. Disappointing, just disappointing game.”
Shooting just 35 percent, the Bulls couldn’t find much of a rhythm outside the first quarter and the bench was again a problem. Not only were the Lakers so potent off the bench, with Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams scoring 18 each, but Larry Nance Jr added 12 with 11 rebounds and the Bulls bench was outscored 56-16—another sign the Bulls need Michael Carter-Williams and Doug McDermott back in the worst way.
Isaiah Canaan finished with a minus-19 in 25 minutes. Bobby Portis finished with a minus-15 in 10 minutes and Nikola Mirotic shot just three for nine and was a minus-9 in 21 minutes.
“Tried to get a couple of our starters out there early, get them back in there with the second unit,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve gotten some solid minutes with the bench in this early portion of the season. Tonight we struggled in the area.”
The memory of Butler tossing Laker defenders off him like rag dolls on his way to a 40-point game was fresh enough in the Lakers’ minds.
He received a much more physical brand of treatment this time around, being double-teamed at seemingly every part of the floor. Butler still went to the line and converted in abundance, hitting 13 of 15, but the easy treading was over.
They were dominated on the glass, a turnaround from what has been a hallmark of this early start as the Lakers outleaped and outhustled the Bulls to loose balls. Julius Randle’s relentlessness on the glass helped the Lakers to a hug 60-46 advantage while subsequently fouling out Taj Gibson with under three minutes left.
Randle’s spin and basket over Mirotic with 45 seconds left as the immediate counter to Butler tying the game at 90 with a triple, as Randle finished with 13 points and 20 rebounds.
The Bulls nearly pulled one from their behinds, as Rajon Rondo was engaged, hitting half of the Bulls’ four triples but nobody could do enough to counter the Bulls going four of 21 from long range.
Mirotic missed all four of his 3-pointers and Isaiah Canaan went one for five from three.
“I think that’s one of those nights,” Butler said. “Take shots you normally make, continue to take them, they’re gonna fall. We’ll be alright.”
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And although the Bulls didn’t defend terribly, they didn’t defend well enough to offset their putrid showing offensively.
“I think the missed shots definitely affected us. And again, you can’t let that happen,” Hoiberg said. “Your defense and rebounding has to be your constant. It was one of those games on that end of the floor where the ball wasn’t going in. When they did, it ended up in a layup for them.”
Rondo hit two triples to start the third, looking more assertive as a whole offensively. He poked balls away after the Lakers started fast breaks and when he got the ball with an advantage, he wasn’t content to just settle; he absorbed the space given to him and attacked the rim on occasion.
He finished with 14, eight rebounds and six assists while Dwyane Wade scored 17, with all five starters scoring in double figures but getting nothing from the reserves.
Even the Lakers turning it over 24 times for 26 points couldn't save the Bulls from themselves. Robin Lopez blocked eight shots but the Lakers were so relentless in attacking, he couldn’t stop everything and the Bulls found themselves fighting a team with new life trying to make amends for a bad game the night before.
So the Bulls countered with one of their own.two triples to start the third, looking more assertive as a whole offensively. He poked balls away after the Lakers started fast breaks and when he got the ball with an advantage, he wasn’t content to just settle; he absorbed the space given to him and attacked the rim on occasion.