Saturday night brought a lot of buzz to the United Center as Zach LaVine made his Bulls debut. (He was announced last and got a rousing ovation!) LaVine showed some real nice things by scoring 14 points in 19 minutes, and the Bulls pulled out a 107-105 victory in yet another crazy win.
First, the end of the game, that LaVine didn’t participate in because it was determined beforehand that he wouldn’t play in the fourth quarter. After a back-and-forth affair that saw 20-plus lead changes, the Pistons took a 105-104 lead on an Avery Bradley jumper with 1:29 to play. Lauri Markkanen then missed an open 3, but David Nwaba disrupted Andre Drummond just enough without touching the ball for Drummond to fumble the rebound out of bounds. After initially giving the ball to the Pistons, a review reversed the call and gave it back to the Bulls, and a beauty of an out-of-bounds play gave Lauri a good look from mid-range that he buried.
Drummond had a prime opportunity to give the lead back to the Pistons on the other end, but he blew a layup and Kris Dunn snared the rebound. Dunn split the free throws before Bradley missed a good look from 3, which was almost a surprise at that point given he went 6 of 10 from long range en route to a game-high 26 points.
The final seconds were pure chaos. The Pistons decided not to foul despite there only being a few-second difference between the shot clock and game clock, and it worked out for them as Justin Holiday turned the ball over. However, Reggie Bullock completely botched a game-tying layup to give the Bulls the win:
Holiday did his best as the current tank commander, but it failed. pic.twitter.com/KFb9RM6Iup— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) January 14, 2018
But back to LaVine. The Bulls ran a play for a LaVine 3-pointer on their very first possession, and he promptly cashed it to get the ball rolling on a 36-point opening frame:
The Bulls’ offense was humming at full capacity in the first quarter, with the ball whipping around the floor and nobody missing from outside. The Bulls started 6 of 6 from 3 and didn’t miss a shot outside the paint until a Nikola Mirotic missed 3 late in the quarter.
LaVine played point guard sporadically throughout the night and made a few nice dishes, but his most impressive buckets were his contested 3s off the dribble in the third quarter. One came at the end of the clock when it looked like the Bulls had nothing going, and another came after a fancy dribbling display:
LaVine also knocked down a mid-range jumper and finished a nice drive to give him five made field goals on nine attempts. He did have his issues on the defensive end (as expected), as did the entire Bulls team. Despite their ridiculous shooting start, they actually trailed by a point at halftime because Bradley couldn’t miss anything and the Bulls offered little resistance around the basket. Drummond grabbing eight offensive boards also helped them to a monster 30-6 advantage in second-chance points.
There were several times throughout the game where it looked like the Pistons may take control, but it seemed like every time the Bulls were in trouble they hit a 3-pointer. After going 15 of 33 from long range at MSG, the Bulls went 17 of 36 from distance to fall one shy of once again tying their franchise record for 3-pointers. Markkanen (19 points) and Mirotic (16 points) both hit four triples, while LaVine and Justin Holiday both hit three. Bobby Portis also went 2 of 3 from distance as part of a 15-point night off the bench.
Kris Dunn struggled from long range by going 1 of 5, but he had a strong game overall after shooting 2 of 8 in the first half. Dunn made all five of his shots in the second half, including two jumpers in the paint down the stretch. And even though he shot poorly in the first half, he did a nice job distributing and wound up with a stuffed stat sheet of 18 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and three steals.
Last but not least, Robin Lopez had 12 points (all of them early), was a game-best plus-16 and had this poster of Luke Kennard:
Luke Kennard don't bother stopping Lopez pic.twitter.com/Z4KQCR0DS5— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) January 14, 2018
With yet another close win, the Bulls are now 7-3 in games decided by five points or less since Mirotic returned. Toss in their OT win in Charlotte and two close-ish wins in Milwaukee, and these Bulls have won way more games than expected by being way better in tight games than expected after their 3-20 start. This, of course, is a double-edged sword given their draft position (now ninth) that only continues to get worse, but we can only hope this crunch-time success will be good for the long run.
The Bulls host the the hot Heat in a MLK matinee on Monday.