CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Zach LaVine finally knocked down a 3-pointer, his only one of Wednesday night, pushing the Bulls ahead by 10 points with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the season opener.
The Bulls had rallied from a sluggish start, particularly at the defensive end, to take their second 10-point lead of the final quarter. Then, the wheels fell off.
The Hornets stormed back with a 15-1 run that featured all the elements that had defined the sluggish start---poor transition defense, lack of rotations to cover open 3-point shooters, more dribbling than passing offensively.
"We need to do a better job of executing down the stretch," coach Jim Boylen said. "When the ball sticks, we’re not as good a team. I thought the ball stuck a little bit at the end there. We gotta get good shots."
Consider this: The Bulls followed LaVine's 3-pointer with turnovers by LaVine and Coby White, who otherwise played well in his NBA debut with 17 points and seven asssists. Devonte Graham sank back-to-back 3-pointers around three point-blank misses by the Bulls, including Wendell Carter Jr.'s tip attempt of a missed driving layup by White. LaVine clanked two more 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. missed a 3-pointer. The Bulls inexplicably committed a shot-clock violation.
"We have to put the ball in our playmakers' hands," LaVine said. "I have to do a better job of commanding the ball, getting in pick-and-roll. Lauri had it going, put Lauri in the pick-and-roll. Spread them out. We’re playing up and down. I think we got a little bit too happy because that was our first time really getting into the game and playing like that. That’s how we want to play. At that time of the game, we can’t do that. We have to settle down. It really hurt us. We let them back into the game."
The Bulls slowed the bleeding by getting Markkanen to the line. He attempted six of his 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes, making five. But Dwayne Bacon sank the Hornets' franchise-record 23rd 3-pointer with 71 seconds remaining, which pushed their lead to four.
And then came the most curious decision of all. After Graham sank two free throws with 11.3 seconds left for a three-point lead, LaVine, with the Bulls out of timeouts, drove for a layup with 4.5 seconds left.
"I knew we were down by three. I was looking for the 3-pointer. That’s what I always look for," LaVine said. "Marvin Williams stepped out and they switched, so I knew there wasn’t that much time left so I had to get something. I knew they weren’t going to foul me at the rim, and if they did it could have been an 'and-1' opportunity. Just trying to get something and then play the foul game."
Instead, the Hornets inbounded the ball to the backcourt and killed the clock. Ballgame.
Boylen confirmed he had called two plays during the previous timeout, giving LaVine the freedom to make the decision on whether to shoot a 3-pointer or attack the rim.
"I mean we had something called, but at that time you’ve got to create," LaVine said. "I tried to go out there and make a play, got what I could. Give us a chance at the end, like I said, to play the foul game, get a steal, something like that. Just something where we’ll give ourselves a chance.’’
Instead, the Bulls came up short.