Cleveland Cavaliers

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Forget statement games, Zach LaVine is having a statement month. 

In 10 January games, the Bulls’ 6-foot-6 messiah is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30.6 points on 50% shooting (22.8 attempts). 

To borrow a word from Jim Boylen, his latest installment — 42 points on 19-for-31 shooting in a game the Bulls clawed back from down 19 in the second half to topple the Cavaliers 118-116 — was “herculean.”

“If that's not an all-star performance I don't know what is,” Boylen said. “He’s been a monster, man. He’s been a monster.”

To LaVine, there isn’t much supernatural about these types of nights; he’s been preaching his confidence and readiness to carry this team since day one. LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, and on a night he conceded his legs were a tad worn, he attempted only six 3-pointers, instead finding most of his offense in the midrange and at the rim.

“Make or break time, we're not gonna get back in the game by just playing nicely. So I'm gonna attack their body, try to make them make a call. Had some tough finishes, made some tough shots, but I take that upon myself,” LaVine said. 

“Just playing the right way,” he added of his recent torrid streak. “I expect to. I put the work in for it.”

But All-Star berths and widespread acclaim aren’t dolled out based on individual point totals, alone, regardless of how effortless LaVine’s prolificity looks at times. And LaVine knows that. Casting the 42 points aside, he also finished the night with a team-high six rebounds, five steals and three assists. He was all-encompassing. Michael Jordan is the only player in Bulls history to post a line with those minimums in a game.

His contributions to a tightly clamped Bulls defense in the fourth were note-worthy for a player that's often advertised his motivation to grow as a two-way, all-around player. And most importantly, the game ended in victory.

“He [LaVine] wants to win. And he knows in order to win you gotta do multiple things in this league and I feel like he did that tonight,” Kris Dunn said. “He was guarding today, scoring the ball, getting rebounds, getting guys involved. We need that from him.”

LaVine lauded the Bulls’ new-look closing lineup of he, Dunn, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls ventured to switch pick-and-rolls with that lineup late, as opposed to their usual blitzing, and outscored the Cavaliers 31-14 in the final period while forcing 10 turnovers.

“We made a lot of defensive stops, we got in transition. Chandler [Hutchison] came in and made some really big plays. Kris Dunn on the defensive end was incredible,” LaVine said. “And that helped me even recently get in some passing lanes. We put it together in the fourth.”

Tonight marked LaVine’s third 40-point game of the season and tenth straight with more than 20. His 31 field goal attempts were a season-high, three more than he hoisted in his record smashing 49-point night in Charlotte. Night in, night out, the on-court production and responsibility acceptance is there. But behind the scenes, he’s ever-improving, as well.

“He's been talking in the huddles, he's been chattering, he's been locked in,” Boylen said. “He's bouncing back from maybe a poor moment or a bad stretch. He's bouncing back now, he's not playing backward at all. And that's what the great ones do.”

“I stepped into this year from the get-go using my voice more, and you know, I've never been a real vocal person but you know, when I say something I think my voice carries weight,” LaVine added.

LaVine isn’t getting ahead of himself. He called this win — however exhilarating — an “ugly” one and lamented the familiar lackluster play that dug the Bulls their 18-point halftime deficit to begin with. Miracle comebacks shouldn't be necessary to beat a now 12-30 Cavaliers team on their last game of a six-game road trip.

Still, the statements are piling up. If his overall outing wasn’t enough, LaVine offered another one to the United Center crowd after his final bucket of the evening, an and-one finish through Collin Sexton with 16 seconds remaining to put him over 40 points and the Bulls ahead by four.

What did he say?

“You want the explicit version or the PG-13?” LaVine said with a chuckle. “This my stuff.” 

Continuing to stuff stat sheets, as he has been, is going to make All-Star jurors’ lives that much more difficult.

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.

Three observations: Zach LaVine, Bulls stage epic comeback over Cavaliers

Three observations: Zach LaVine, Bulls stage epic comeback over Cavaliers

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, and his activity defensively (five steals) stood out.

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.

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.

Bulls, Cavaliers making no excuses in spite of stilted travel schedule

usatsi_13595091.jpg
USA Today

Bulls, Cavaliers making no excuses in spite of stilted travel schedule

Snowy conditions in Chicago marred both the Bulls and Cavaliers' travel plans ahead of their bout Saturday night at the UC. Each team had its flights from respective departure cities (for the Bulls, Philadelphia; for the Cavaliers, Memphis) overnight on Friday, and didn't arrive in Chicago until Saturday morning.

But, before the game, both coaches scoffed good-naturedly at the notion that the stilted schedule might impact their preparation time or energy.

"We still showed up for our meal in Chicago at the same time," Cavaliers head coach John Beilein said. "I think with the NBA what I've observed is the long nap time in the afternoon is more important than anything for these guys. So we didn't get much sleep the night before, had to get up early. But we got to the hotel and ate at 11, and from 12 to 4 our guys got some pretty good rest."

"This has happened before. We're on a back-to-back, we need to do the basics better. I haven't talked about the travel, I'm not going to talk to the team about how difficult it was or whatever. I don't do that," Jim Boylen said. "This is the pro part, the professional part, so we gotta come out and play hard."

That the Bulls will do, as they do every night. And perhaps, in spite of their grueling January slate, they might find an edge over a Cavaliers team currently running a gauntlet of their own.

For the Cavs, this game is the last of a six-game road trip, on which they're 2-3 to this point. In that context, there might not be a more nightmarish matchup than the Bulls, given their ability to force turnovers. The Bulls' aggressive, trapping defensive scheme yields 17.8 opponent turnovers per game, the most in the NBA. The Cavaliers commit the second-most turnovers per game in the league (16.3) and own the league's highest turnover rate (16.4%).

"We're playing a very different team now with the way they play defense, very aggressive, steal the ball a lot," Beilein said. "We tried to show as much film as we could without wearing [the players] out, make sure that we were fresh seeing as we're coming off a back-to-back. They're leading the league in turning people over, we're leading the league in turning the ball over, so that'll be an interesting question whether we can solve that today."

"We always hope to have active hands and make people play through our hands," Boylen said. "Hopefully [we] do what we do."

The Bulls enter play 15-28, the Cavaliers 12-30. And both are coming off losses on the front end of their back-to-backs — the Bulls 100-89 to the 76ers and the Cavaliers 113-109 to the upstart Grizzlies. Logistical misfortunes aside, there's a game to be played tonight, and don't expect any excuses from either side.

"Both of us [the Cavaliers and Bulls] are coming off tough losses and we both have to deal with it, and you know, we'll see," Beilein said. "Hopefully it's going to be a really good game, and whichever team can battle that adversity the best is gonna win." 

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.