The Bulls went down big, then came up bigger down the stretch. Observations from a 118-116 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers:
This one was… a shootout? (For a bit)
Before this one, I wrote that anything and everything was possible in this game — especially given that both teams entered on the back-end of back-to-backs and had their travel delayed overnight on Friday.
A shootout wasn’t high on the list of most probable outcomes, but that’s what we got, at least early on. Kevin Love and Collin Sexton led the charge for Cleveland. Love notched 21 first half points, scoring with relative ease at all three levels (4-for-6 from three). Sexton’s full array of crisp crossovers and breakneck dribble drives were on display — he had 16 at the break.
As a team, the Cavaliers shot an unholy 12-for-17 from 3-point range (with one of those misses being a last-second heave just before the half), 68.4% from the field and at one point made 14 consecutive field goals in the first half. They won the second quarter 40-25.
The Bulls shot 54.5%, scored 56 points and forced 12 turnovers, yet all of that amounted in a 73-56 deficit entering the third. The Cavs’ shooting numbers regressed from there, as the Bulls eventually staged a furious rally.
Credit Cleveland for playing with pride and energy in a game they could have phoned in. And credit the Bulls for rebounding from a porous defensive first half in a game they should have dominated from the start.
Lauri Markkanen bounced back
The Bulls ran plays for Markkanen to start all three quarters that he began on the floor (the first, the third and the fourth). In that order: one ended in a turnover, one a made 3-pointer of a pick-and-pop feed from Tomas Satoransky, one a missed 3-pointer on a similar action.
His increased involvement seemed intentional on the heels of a three-game stretch in which Markkanen averaged 8.7 field goal attempts per game. He finished the night with 17 points, scoring seven of those in the fourth, on 7-for-14 shooting in 33 minutes. His 2-for-8 from 3-point range sticks out, but it was encouraging to see him find his offense in other ways (on the break, facing up and off offensive rebounds).
Markkanen gave the Bulls a 112-111 lead, a lead they never surrendered, with a transition layup through contact with just under three minutes left.
A rally ends in victory
The Bulls entered the fourth quarter trailing 102-87 but claimed the lead — 108-107 — by the 4:38 mark with a torrid 21-5 run. Games of this narrative arc are a pattern for the Bulls — only this time, the late rally ended in victory.
Zach LaVine was, again, the hero. He poured in 21 fourth quarter points — finishing the game with 42 on 19-for-31 shooting — and ignited the UC throughout the game’s last 12 minutes with tough bucket after tough bucket of every variety. His last one was an and-one layup that stretched the Bulls’ lead to four with under a minute left that caused a frenzy.
Dunn bounced back after Sexton got loose in the first half and made a litany of key plays. Some that stick out: drawing an offensive foul on Love that set up the possession that initially gave the Bulls the lead, a steal that resulted in a LaVine dunk to retake it a few minutes later and the game-clinching rebound off a Love miss with seconds remaining. He was everywhere.
The Bulls’ closing lineup consisted of Chandler Hutchison at the presumptive four and Markkanen at center, with Satoransky, LaVine, and Dunn manning the wing. Hutchison only took two shots but played his role — his length and activity were pivotal to the Bulls holding the Cavaliers to 14 fourth-quarter points. It was an encouraging performance for him.
The game swung on a coach’s challenge won by Jim Boylen that took the ‘and-one’ designation off a Love dunk with 20.1 seconds left (the foul, on Markkanen, was ticky-tack). The Bulls forced nine turnovers and held the Cavaliers to 4-for-15 shooting, outscoring them 31-14 in the fourth quarter and 62-43 in the second half. The clamps went on at the right time.
It was an absolute ride, and though against suspect competition, an exhilarating win. Reality calls with Milwaukee in town on Monday.
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