The Chicago Bulls returned home for their second game in as many nights Friday evening, and after a devastating loss to the Denver Nuggets the night before, the team proceeded to drop another winnable game to the Sacramento Kings by a final score of 107-106. Perhaps understandably fatigued from the previous contest, none of the “young” “talent” on the Bulls’ roster could match the energy level of 36 year old Zach Randolph, and that ultimately proved to be the difference in a game that saw 22 lead changes in 48 minutes.
This game began with both centers whiffing on the opening tip, Sacramento scoring the contest’s first points less than ten seconds after crossing mid-court, and Randolph routinely bullying all the Bulls on the block. Of course, the Kings aren’t exactly world-beaters themselves on defense, so they never really got an opportunity to pull away early on. However, Kris Dunn definitely deserves credit for spearheading the offense out of the gate, as he successfully dished six assists in the first eight and a half minutes of play before Fred Hoiberg took him out. His own scoring left something to be desired as he missed more than a few bunnies at the rim via some unorthadox finish attempts, but Dunn’s facilitating led to a great team-scoring effort early on that powered the Bulls through most of the first quarter. Dunn also snagged a steal that led to this nice flush from Lauri Markkanen in transition:
Markkanen gets his first bucket off an ATO designed for him, then gets the flush off a Dunn steal pic.twitter.com/25R6Wz0aKg— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 2, 2017
Add in the inevitable 3-for-3 shooting first quarter from Robin Lopez, and the Bulls managed to close out the opening period with a 31-29 lead.
The routine for this Bulls team in games that they’ve kept close going into the second quarter this season has usually seen the bench come in and subsequently let the game get out of reach. Fortunately, this wasn’t one of those nights, as several reserves for Chicago entered the game and proceeded to have their most encouraging performances in weeks. Paul Zipser scored nine points in the first half, David Nwaba looked like a complete player with a line of 5/4/3 in ten minutes, and a struggling Cristiano Felicio finally looked competent again with eight points on 3-3 shooting. The Bulls’ bench would go on to finish the first half with a +/- net rating of +30 and kept Chicago in front for most of the second quarter, yet when the starters came back in, the Kings got themselves back in the game. Zach Randolph continued to completely dominate the first half and would go on to finish with 17 points on 8-11 shooting, eight rebounds and two assists. His efforts clawed the Kings back into the game before a baffling sequence of stupidity that saw the Bulls turn the ball over and commit an and-1 goaltend at the buzzer to give the Kings a 61-60 lead heading into the locker room. The Bulls’ starters finished the first half with a net +/- rating of -35.
Now comes the part of the recap where we all get to laugh at Denzel Valentine:
Temple Drops Denzel Valentine pic.twitter.com/Y9Br8HDZGK— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) December 2, 2017
Yes, that is the Bulls’ 2016 1st round pick getting absolutely dropped by 31 year old Garrett Temple. Valentine apologists, go away forever please.
Anyway, none of the other starters faired much better, and in a continuation of the trend from the second quarter, the bench had to keep the Bulls in this game. Nwaba resumed playing an extremely good all-around game, while Zipser and Felicio continued to have arguably each of their best performances thus far this season. The Kings never really got an opportunity to break the game open thanks to the efforts of the Bulls’ reserves, and after a period that saw both teams score 21 points, both teams entered the final quarter of play with the score at 82-81 in favor of Sacramento.
This game would end up coming down to the final minute of play, and everything that happened in the last sixty seconds served as a pretty accurate microcosm of the contest as a whole. With Chicago down by four, Robin Lopez proceeded to sink a 20+ foot jumper off of Jerian Grant’s sixth assist of the game. The Bulls then proceeded to immediately give that bucket back on the other end by collapsing three defenders onto 7’0” Willie Cauley-Stein, thereby letting De’Aaron Fox cut all the way to the basket for an uncontested layup off of Cauley-Stein’s fifth assist of the night. Markkanen missed a midrage jumper on the next possession coming out of a Bulls timeout, and that pretty much sealed the deal for Chicago on the night. Though Jerian Grant did manage to contribute five garbage points in the final eight seconds of play (including a three at the buzzer), the Bulls still ultimately dropped this one by a final score of 107-106.
None of the Bulls’ starters played a good game in this one, which is incredibly concerning given that they were squaring up against the freaking Sacramento Kings. Markkanen’s shooting slump continued with a 5-13 performance from the field, Dunn dealt only two assists after the first quarter and shot just 2-9 overall, and Justin Holiday somehow managed to chuck the Bulls out of the game in the 4th quarter despite only taking ten shots for the whole contest. Conversely, all four of the Bulls’ bench players that recorded double digit minutes—Zipser, Felicio, Nwaba, and Grant—played very good games. That being said, the Bulls cumulitively played suspect defense for most of the night, and they allowed Zach Randolph to post his first double-double of the season with 25 points on 12-19 shooting and 13 rebounds. As a team, the Kings tore apart the Bulls’ defense with brilliant team play all night, as seven of their players finished with at least three assists.
Now over a quarter of the way through the regular season (and it’s remarkably only December 1st), the Bulls find themselves on an eight game losing streak while also 15 games below .500... and have the worst record in the NBA. Though Nikola Mirotic and Zach LaVine will both return at some point, the Bulls are clearly a well-oiled tanking machine and should have little trouble “competing” for the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The Bulls get the weekend off after completing a back-to-back, but their winning fortunes are unlikely to change Monday night as they get to take on a surging Cleveland Cavaliers team. Mercifully, it’s unlikely Derrick Rose makes an appearance.