Fresh off a defeat to the Phoenix Suns last Sunday, the Chicago Bulls resumed their Western Conference road trip Tuesday night with a visit to Los Angeles to take on Lonzo Ball and the Lakers. While the offspring of the basketball world’s biggest headache did not have much of a positive impact on this game outside of rebounding the ball, the Bulls would still go on to lose the contest via a final score of 103-94 despite playing well for the entire first half.
Both teams kept things fairly close in the opening minutes, but the Bulls quickly found offense from a hot Denzel Valentine that would go on to hit all three of his three point attempts for the quarter. Robin Lopez complimented Valentine’s play with an offensive effort seemingly fueled by a determination to outplay his twin brother, and he did indeed go on to outscore Brook Lopez by 10 points while holding the leading scorer in Nets franchise history to only four points. As for the quarter itself, the Bulls would conclude the first twelve minutes with a 27-23 lead, thanks also to a nice late stint off the bench from Antonio Blakeney.
Blakeney then opened the second quarter for the Bulls by repeatedly beating the Lakers’ defense off of pick and rolls. He scored 13 points in only seven minutes of play before forcing Luke Walton to burn a timeout very early on:
And then he did this to Julius Randle:
He got t’d up for taunting, but who really cares? Though the dunk would serve as his final points for the remainder of the half, it rattled essentially every Laker not named Kyle Kuzma and gave the Bulls the boost they needed to finish the next eight minutes strong. Valentine switched up his nice game by make several great passes and Kris Dunn both consistently scored and facilitated well for the offense as a whole. With Robin Lopez continuing to outplay his twin brother, everything came together for Chicago to take a 56-42 lead into the half. Four different Bulls dished three assists in the first half, and every Bull that entered the game left the court with at least one assist other than Cristiano Felicio.
Though the Bulls began the second half strong, they quickly lost the pass-first mentality they exhibited in the first half in favor of a more isolated offensive approach. Predictably, this allowed the Lakers to charge back into the game over the course of the third quarter, despite the Bulls at one point leading by 19 points. Barely two minutes into the final period of play, the Lakers finally tied the game at 80 points thanks to a strong stint from Julius Randle. The Bulls did fight back with a 7-0 run over the next three mintues, but when Kris Dunn had to exit the game with his fifth foul a few plays later, the Lakers quickly capitalized with a 9-2 run to re-tie the game.
Immediately after Randle missed his and-1 freethrow after tying the game, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope caught a ricochet rebound from an errant shot and promptly put it back in to give the Lakers their first lead of the second half. KCP then proceeded to nail two threes from the same spot on back-to-back possessions to put the Lakers ahead by multiple scores with a minute and a half remaining. Though Lauri Markkanen answered the first three, the second proved to be too much for the Bulls to overcome as the Lakers would go on to win by a final score of 103-94.
Markkanen followed up his wonderful game from Sunday night with a rough 4-17 shooting performance (2-9 from 3-PT), although he did snag yet another career-high in rebounds with 14. Both Dunn and Valentine struggled down the stretch after playing well for most of the game, though the latter did hit five of his seven attempts from distance. The bench in particular continued to be a disappointment, as Blakeney did not score in the second half and the rest of the reserves only managed 13 points between them. After a first half that featured 18 team assists, the Bulls managed only six the rest of the way.
From both a short and long-term entertainment standpoint, this is about as perfect of an outcome as you could have asked for as a Bulls fan with an ounce of foresight. The Bulls played well enough for most of the game to look like they had what it takes to win before stumbling over themselves at the finish line. It’s a theme I hope continues, and these last two losses to the Suns and the Lakers to open the Western Conference road trip give great hope to the #LoseForLuka faithful like myself.
The Bulls will have another chance to lose tomorrow night when they travel to Salt Lake City to take on a struggling Utah Jazz squad.