Zach LaVine

Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

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USA Today

Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

When Lauri Markkanen is on, it's inspired. And he was 'on' in the first half of the Bulls' eventual 100-98 loss to the league-worst (entering the night) 4-19 Warriors. 

In fact, there were stretches when it appeared he just might save the Bulls from their second (second!) loss of the season to Golden State.

See: the opening five minutes of the second quarter. The Warriors, trailing 28-23 at the end of the first period, were on a 16-5 run. You could call it a spurt, but it felt more like an avalanche. The Bulls' bench had gone cold, Ky Bowman and Omari Spellman were raining hellfire and the United Center was despondent.

Then, Markkanen awoke. It all started on a pick-and-pop action between Markkanen and Denzel Valentine. With the Warriors flat-footed and scrambling to rotate, Markkanen reeled in a bounce-pass from Valentine at the top of the key and rifled a side-armed bullet to Daniel Gafford, awaiting free and clear in the paint. This is a delightful play, and a rare one for Markkanen this season:

Two straight 3-pointers (one on another pick-and-pop possession in concert with Zach LaVine) followed that, then a cutting dunk to knot the game 41-41. Markkanen finished the half leading the game in points (17), field goals made and attempted (shooting 7-for-11) and 3-pointers, on which he was 3-for-6. The Bulls were ahead 51-50. Too close for comfort, yes, (especially for this team) but in the moment, that Markkanen sequence felt like a true leadership moment. He was carrying the team.

Zach LaVine, after all, hadn't scored until the under two minutes until the half.

"I was getting good looks, my teammates were finding me, and I was getting to the rim," Markkanen said. "No matter how they were guarding me, we found something that worked for us."

Markkanen then proceeded to not score for over 25 minutes of game action, totaling three points in the second half on 1-for-6 shooting. After the game, Jim Boylen was unsure of what exactly changed for Markkanen of the second, but the taste in his mouth was evidently sour.

"I don't know. I mean, sometimes people adjust? They adjust to a guy who's got it going and they change. Sometimes the ball doesn't go in," Boylen said. "That's the game."

Boylen added that he liked the look Markkanen got on a 3-pointer late in the fourth that, at the time, tied the game 97-97. It was the only shot Markkanen made after the 4:48 mark of the second quarter.

"The team goes on spurts," Markkanen offered as explanation. "We go on little runs and they go on runs. That's how the game is, and I feel like we did a good job feeding the hot guy. When Zach got going in the second half, we did the same thing, so... I think that's part of it."

LaVine scored 21 of his 22 points in the game over a seven-minute stretch between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. For the third time this season (and second time in three games), LaVine and Markkanen each tallied 20 points. It rang hollow.

So did the team's end-of-fourth-quarter execution, an area they excelled in over the two-game win streak they rode into this one. LaVine, again, controlled the majority of the team's crunch-time possessions, but this time, the team fell short — mustering only 15 points in the final period.

"We could've executed, not turned the ball over," Markkanen said. "Simple plays. Obviously everybody's going to look at the last play, but it's not about that. We had some good looks before that that we gotta make the plays that we need to finish the game off."

Markkanen committed two turnovers and bricked a forced, late-shot clock jumper in the final two minutes. "I could have done a better job making the plays I needed," he conceded.

The Bulls go as LaVine and Markkanen do, and their stilted play tonight reflected the team's oft-polarizing offense. After two games of fresher air, Markkanen — 'back' for a half, a leader on the floor — ultimately took one step back.

"You know, that's part of the learning," Boylen said. "People adjust in the second half to what you did in the first, and you gotta adjust again."

What that adjustment will be remains to be seen.

Bulls provide more head-scratching moments down stretch of winnable game

Bulls provide more head-scratching moments down stretch of winnable game

The Warriors still have a dynasty when they play the Bulls. Forty percent of their victories are against coach Steve Kerr’s former employer.

And with a chance to win three games for the first time since February of last season, the Bulls came up small in the big moments yet again.

They failed to score a field goal the final 3 minutes, 35 seconds of a head-scratching 100-98 loss to the Warriors, managing just 15 points while getting outscored by eight in the final period.

On a night Zach LaVine did plenty right, the uber-confident guard made an unconventional decision at the end. With the Bulls down two, he waved off a Wendell Carter Jr. screen and went for the win, missing a 3-pointer that he rose to take with 3.3 seconds left.

Both LaVine and coach Jim Boylen offered plausible explanations for the isolation, saying they didn’t want perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green switching on to LaVine in a pick-and-roll. However, Boylen did concede “the timing of it maybe could be better” since most teams try to give themselves a chance at a tip-in or putback off a miss in those situations.

A defiantly confident LaVine didn’t even concede that. The Warriors’ first contact with the eventually secured defensive rebound came with 0.6 left on the clock.

“I just wish I made it,” LaVine said when asked if he would’ve liked to take the shot earlier. “I think I got a good look at it. I’ll take it again. I think I’ll make it too.”

Boylen defended LaVine through several questions about the shot.

“I like the fact that the ball is in Zach’s hands. I believe in Zach at the end of the game. He can make that shot. He has made it before,” Boylen said. “The timing of it maybe could be better. It’s a rhythm thing. It’s how you feel. He has done a good job of that. I believe in him in that situation. And [Friday night] it just didn’t go down.”

The missed shot obscured LaVine’s positives. While he did have five turnovers, he had early assists without trying to force offense, not scoring until 1:27 left in the first half.

Then came one of those patented LaVine scoring outbursts. He scored 21 of his 22 points in 7:39 and finished with six assists and six rebounds.

“Obviously, I didn’t want to give them another possession. I was either going to take it to the hoop and try to get fouled or go for the game,” LaVine said of the final sequence. “It was supposed to be me and Lauri in the pick-and-roll but Draymond was being that guy to switch and I didn’t want to deal with him in the pick-and-roll. I rejected it. I looked at the clock and it was three seconds I think. I had a good look. I thought it was good.”

The final points of the game came on a Green alley-oop to Glenn Robinson III for a dunk with 63 seconds left. The Bulls blitzed D’Angelo Russell, who slipped a pass to Green through the double team.

“That’s what we felt was the best situation for us,” Boylen said. “Get the ball out of DLo’s hands and make someone else make a play.”

Dunn posted his league-high eighth game with three or more steals and had been hounding Russell all game, helping limit him to seven points.

Boylen used a five-man substitution — don’t worry; four of the incoming players were starters — with 8:32 left and the Bulls up four. Coby White and Denzel Valentine had been rolling, which is why Boylen fielded a question about his decision.

“I just wanted to get my starters back in the game and close the game out,” Boylen said.

Boylen drew criticism in the home collapse against the Lakers for not bringing his starters back. Ultimately, most coaches live and die with their starters. And they’re the ones who coughed up the four-point lead.

Valentine actually even got ejected from the bench 42 seconds later for drawing his second technical foul.

“I had it rolling, but Coach made a sub. I wish I would’ve been available. I watched the fourth and I think I could’ve been useful the rest of the fourth,” Valentine said. “I just have to learn from these types of things and just move on.”

Valentine said it’s the first time he has been ejected from a game in any sport at any level. He drew his first technical foul in a double-technical situation while jawing with Omari Spellman. An animated Valentine scored in double figures for just his second time this season and is clearly relishing reappearing in the rotation.

“Two hard teams playing basketball, and it got a little carried away,” Valentine said. “My passion has been taken to the next level because I was out for a year. I literally live for basketball. This is what I love to do.”

Boylen adamantly pointed to progress with ball movement, and cited work ethic in practice and care factor for why he believes longer stretches of consistency will follow.

The painful fourth quarter offered a counter argument. In those moments, the Bulls looked like a young team that doesn't know how to close out games.

“I think we beat ourselves,” LaVine said.

He wouldn’t get much argument there.

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What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

The Bulls get a shot at revenge against the lowly Warriors Friday night in Chicago. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Warriors’ last five (1-4)

  • Dec. 4 — L at Hornets: 106-91

  • Dec. 2 — L at Atlanta: 104-79

  • Dec. 1 — L at Magic: 100-96

  • Nov. 29 — L at Heat: 122-105

  • Nov. 27 — W vs. Bulls: 104-90

One storyline for each team

After defeating the Bulls 104-90 in San Francisco on Nov. 27, the Warriors embarked on a five-game road trip that has featured visits to Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and now Chicago. Their first four stops ended in losses of varying severity to competition of varying quality (though mostly subpar). Tonight, they cap that swing with their fifth game in eight nights against the Bulls. D’Angelo Russell is back — he returned in their last game against the Hornets and dropped 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting — but that’s about all Golden State has going for them right now.

This goes without saying, but the Bulls need to pounce on this game — an eminently winnable one — especially with a road-and-home back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors looming early next week. In each of the two games of their current win streak (against the Kings and Grizzlies) they’ve gotten out to commanding first-half leads, then allowed their opponent to claw their way back late in the game. Their offensive execution down the stretch of the last two has been sublime (thanks, Zach LaVine), but substantive progress would mean a comfortable win, at home, tonight — especially having already lost to this Warriors team this season.

In the event that this game isn't comfortable (which feels more likely), look out for another Zach LaVine takeover. He's averaging an NBA-leading 10.3 points per game in fourth quarters since Nov. 23 (Charlotte game), shooting 54.3% from the field (5.8 attempts) and 68.8% from three (2.7 attempts). Him catching fire isn't something you want to miss.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell

Russell presents a challenge unlike any the Bulls faced when they played this team a little over a week ago. He's a crafty ball-handler, and can pull and drain from long-range from any spot, at any time and under any amount of durress. When he plays, the ball is in his hands a staggering amount — per Cleaning the Glass, his 34.8% usage rate is in the 98th percentile of ball-handlers in the league.

The Bulls have the personnel to hone in and give him fits, between Tomas Satoransky and Kris Dunn — if their length and activity can get Russell out of rhythm, the rest of the Warriors mistfit-laden roster will have to beat them. Granted, Golden State has done it before, and in convincing fashion for that matter. But the Bulls hope two straight encouraging performances in a row are an indication of things to come. This is also a great game to monitor how the Bulls defend Russell's pick-and-roll; he's currently averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.

Final point: Russell's misadventures on the defensive side of the ball are well-documented, so look for LaVine and Satoransky to attempt to feast on that end, as well. The Bulls mustered only 90 points against the Warriors 27th-rated defense on Nov. 27, but LaVine and Satoransky were lone bright spots, accounting for 45 combined points and seven threes.

Matchup to watch: The paint

One of the smudges on the Bulls' 106-99 win over the Grizzlies on Wendesday was the performance of Jonas Valanciunas, who totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from illness. He was absolutely bruising, and the Grizzlies racked up 52 points in the paint (compared to the Bulls' 32). That number is well above the Bulls' season average of 49.9 points allowed in the paint per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

That figure might surprise some, given that the team anchors its defense with a versatile and heady center in Wendell Carter Jr. and a jumpy shot-blocking backup in Daniel Gafford. Jim Boylen has pointed to isolated blocks from Gafford and Carter, as well as 'our guys competed'-isms when asked about their struggles in that department. The Warriors have a roster stilted towards bigs and interior forwards, and notched 52 points in the paint in their last matchup with the Bulls, behind solid performances from Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss. Thad Young missing tonight's game with a personal issue won't help here.

Further, these aren't your mother's Warriors. They're not a prolific shooting team and don't have the same plethora of perimeter shot-creators they once did. They're going to try to out-muscle the Bulls tonight, as they did on Nov. 27, and it's worth monitoring how much resistance the hosts put up.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Bad news on the Otto Porter Jr. front today: The Bulls starting small forward and most solid wing defender suffered another setback, as a repeat MRI revealed a continued bone edema (i.e. swelling) in his left foot. He’ll be re-evaluated in another two weeks. Chandler Hutchison is still working out and running — and getting better each day, according to Boylen — but there remains no precise timetable on his return.

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.