We have a winning streak! The Bulls played well, then fine, then poorly, then came alive down the stretch in a 106-99 win over a depleted Grizzlies squad. It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. Here are some observations:
Bulls get off to a fast start
Jim Boylen talked all day — from shootaround to pregame — about the importance of getting out to a fast start, especially in front of the home crowd.
The Bulls did just that tonight. They started the game on a 13-2 run, catalyzed by two quick Lauri Markkanen threes. Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined for 18 points in the quarter on a near perfect 6-for-7 shooting (3-for-4 from three). Tomas Satoransky looked in command of the offense in his eight first period minutes — despite not scoring, he assisted on four of the Bulls’ 10 made buckets.
Sato sets up LaVine for the Tomahawk!— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) December 5, 2019
Like the view, Grayson Allen? pic.twitter.com/CidZCIy48t
The bench gave a little ground as the quarter wore on, but clung to a 27-20 lead entering the second by way of a buzzer-beating Ryan Arcidiacono three. That’s a closer margin than most of the frame felt, but the reserves pushed the lead to 16 by the time the starters re-claimed the reigns with 6:39 until halftime.
The Grizzlies didn’t play a good first half, but hang around
The Grizzlies entered tonight a 6-14 team and playing without their best player. To put it simply, they looked the part — at least to start. They missed their first 16 threes (becoming the first NBA team all season to fail to make a three in the first half of a game) and let the Bulls get just about anything they wanted offensively. The Bulls held them to 15 points in the second quarter and 25 in the first half, both season-lows for opponents.
But Memphis clawed their way back into the game, as 2019-20 Bulls opponents have been wont to do. For a stretch in the third, the Bulls went cold, and Jonas Valanciunas got hot. He bully-balled his way to eight points in the quarter, and the Grizzlies at one point pulled within six after trailing by as many as 22 in the first half. Valanciunas finished with a game-high 32 points and 13 rebounds — a thorn in the Bulls' side from start to finish.
The Bulls roleplayers were able to keep them at arms-length, for a time. Thad Young had seven points in the third. Satoransky again subtly emerged when the Bulls needed him most, tallying five points, two assists and two steals in the quarter.
The Bulls ultimately led by 14 entering the fourth, but things, of course, got more interesting from there.
The duality of the 2019 Bulls rears its head once again
This game was the full 2019 Bulls experience. First, a red-hot first half in which they shot 8-for-18 from three and held their opponent to a season-low 35 points. Then, an ice-cold latter half, shooting 3-for-13 on triples in the second half. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ fortunes flipped — after their 0-for-15 start, they canned six of their next 11 triples.
The Bulls even tossed in a near-fourth quarter collapse, to boot. Down 12, the Grizzlies ripped off a 17-6 run over a 3:51 minute stretch of the fourth behind 11 combined points from Grayson Allen and Jae Crowder. A Crowder three pulled the Grizzlies within one at the 4:29 mark, to the collective sagging of every Bull on the floor’s shoulders.
Starters wake up down the stretch
But after a Jim Boylen timeout, the starters woke up. Zach LaVine came straight out and nailed a three, then a midrange two to push the lead to six. Kris Dunn’s second (!) longball of the game then made the lead nine. When an Allen three appeared to somewhat stymie their momentum, Markkanen wrapped around a screen and drained a leaning triple to make the lead nine once again. LaVine was at least partially responsible for 13 straight points over that stretch, via made field goal or assist.
After posting a relatively quiet 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting over the first three quarters, LaVine came alive in the fourth. He had nine points in the period — punctuated by the crucial buckets mentioned above — and finished the game with 11 free throw attempts, his third game in a row with 10 or more trips to the line.
Everyone else in the starting lineup had encouraging overall performances. Wendell Carter Jr. bounced back from two early fouls to notch his 12th double-double of the season, scoring 16 points, snagging 13 rebounds and blocking four shots (he also largely held Jaren Jackson Jr. in check tonight). Markkanen had 15 on an efficient 5-for-9 shooting (4-for-8 from three), though seeing him move more aggressively downhill and snare more than five rebounds would have been ideal. Satoransky and Dunn set the pace and came through when needed.
The rotation again looked traditional tonight, a trend Boylen has said is intentional. Every starter but Kris Dunn (who fouled out late in the fourth) played 29 or more minutes. Only Coby White played more than 20 of the reserves.
Yes, this was another much-too-close-for-comfort win over a team the Bulls should be leaps and bounds better than. But a win is a win, and after the way the season began, those can’t be taken for granted.
With the victory, the Bulls move to 4-7 on the season at home — an area in which Boylen and others have stressed it’s important to improve. This is also their first win-streak of the season. WIth Golden State coming to town, Friday, perhaps they can continue to build.
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