After one of the most miserable performances of the entire 2017 NBA Summer League yesterday, the Chicago Bulls bounced back against the Washington Wizards to win their first game of the tournament by a final score of 82-73. Though Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine continued to struggle shooting from the floor overall, the Bulls as a team still managed to hit 14 of their 34 total three pointers and more than doubled their assist total from the game prior to keep the lead over the Wizards for the entirety of the contest after the first two minutes. No Cameron Payne, absolutely no problem!
Though a bit slow out of the gate, the Bulls still looked miles better on both ends of the court than they did yesterday to open the game. Randy Brown moved Chris Walker into the starting lineup alongside Lauri Markannen, and the team felt the athletic energy boost he provides almost immediately. Walker scored the first two baskets of the game for the Bulls on putbacks and also hustled after loose balls well on both defense and offense.
The Bulls also hit as many threes in the first five minutes of the contest as they did the entire game prior, going 4-5 from distance during that stretch with their lone miss coming on a Markannen shot clock heave. The team didn’t cool down from there, as they would go on to hit three of their next five attempts from beyond the arc to finish the quarter 7-10, mostly thanks to substantially better ball movement than what fans witnessed yesterday. Denzel Valentine in particular looked good offensively, going 4-9 from the field to score ten points. The hot shooting from Chicago combined with a few missed open looks by the Wizards allowed the Bulls to conclude the first quarter with a 33-15 lead. The 33 points by Chicago in the first ten minutes were more than half of their total points they had against the Hawks yesterday.
Gar Forman gave a mid-game interview to kick off the second quarter, and he didn’t really say much that fans haven’t heard before other than when asked about the Bulls’ point guard situation. Forman said that the Bulls were going to have an open competition for the starting point guard spot, refusing to commit to Kris Dunn as the eventual starter despite his role as a key component in the deal for Jimmy Butler. Forman said that Dunn will have to compete with both Cameron Payne (lol) and Jerian Grant going forward to earn the starting job, so it will be interesting to see how that situation unfolds once practice for the team gets underway.
As for the action on the court, the Bulls predictibly cooled down a bit on offense for the majority of the second quarter. Conversely, the Wizards picked up their own scoring a bit, and this resulted in a 15-5 run in favor of Washinton that lasted a full six minutes. Fortunately, Chicago did manage to counter a bit with an 11-6 run of their own to close out the quarter fueled by some solid all-around play from Markkanen. Markkanen boxed out and rebounded the ball very well in the second quarter on both ends, and even though he airballed two threes, he had some solid conversions at the rim; including this putback slam over a helpless Wizard defender:
The up-and-down quarter for the Bulls didn’t hurt their lead too badly, as Chicago went into the locker room with a 52-36 lead at the end of the first half.
The third quarter belonged to Antonio Blakeney. Blakeney opened the second half by nailing a three to boost the Bulls’ lead to 19 points, but then the Bulls failed to score any points for the next four minutes. In fact, none of the Bulls other than Blakeney managed to score any points during the entire third quarter, as the Wizards completely bottled up Markkanen and Valentine. The Wizards whittled down the Bulls’ lead to single digits, but Blakeney roared back over the last five minutes to score seven of his own points to keep the Bulls somewhat comfortably in front. Blakeney went into the final quarter of play leading the team in scoring with 21 points on 8-15 shooting (4-5 from deep), and the Bulls subsequently entered the last ten minutes with a 62-53 lead.
Chicago continued to struggle on offense to open the fourth quarter, and Washington capitalized by cutting the contest to a one possession game with five minutes remaining thanks to a quick flurry of points from last year’s NCAA scoring champion Marcus Keene. Fortunately, after a half spent almost entirely in offensive silence, Valentine and Markkanen finally made some noise with a quick 8-2 run over the next two minutes to put the Bulls back ahead by seven. Markkanen then had a nice dish to Duje Dukan for a wide open three that boosted the Bulls’ lead to double digits, and Blakeney canned a mid-range jumper on the next possession to essentially seal the deal for Chicago. After a few freethrows and some garbage time baskets, the Bulls emerged victorious via a final score of 82-73.
Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine had their second straight day of disappointing shooting from the field, going a combined 12-38 for 35 points. However, their hot 3-PT shooting to start and close the game proved to be enough for the Bulls to eke out a victory, as both players combined to shoot 7-18 from distance, which was a total of seven more threes than they hit yesterday on the same amount of attempts! Markkanen also pulled down 10 rebounds to record a 20/10 double-double. However, the game ball went to Antonio Blakeney, as he lead the team in scoring with 23 points on 9-17 shooting—including scoring all of the Bulls’ points in the 3rd quarter—and also pulled down eight rebounds.
With the preliminary stage of summer league now over, the Bulls will enter the knockout stage with a 1-2 record. No word on when the next game is or who Chicago’s next opponent will be, but the championship game is scheduled for July 17th, so information on the knockout round should surface quickly once the final preliminary games conclude tonight. Though Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne have both gone home early due to personal reasons, if Paul Zipser can return from his ankle injury and the Valentine/Markkanen combo can continue developing their chemistry, perhaps the Bulls’ chances of defending their summer league title aren’t quite dead yet.