With the Bulls off to an 0-3 start and Kris Dunn on the shelf for at least a month, things weren’t looking up as the Hornets came to town. Naturally, the Bulls pulled out their first win of the season thanks to a whole lot of Zach LaVine and the game of a lifetime for Dunn’s replacement, Cameron Payne.
LaVine made all the big plays down the stretch, scoring the final six points and hitting two free throws with 0.5 seconds left to give the Bulls a 112-110 win. LaVine actually tried to miss the second attempt, but he’s so damn hot it went in anyway.
While LaVine’s aggressive final drive drew the game-winning foul shots, it was actually his defense that set up the opportunity. After launching a poor long 2 the possession before to set up what looked like a potential game-winning possession for the Hornets, LaVine stuck with Kemba Walker and deflected the inbounds pass off Walker’s fingertips. LaVine did a nice job defending Kemba for much of the night:
Defense works! Bulls basketball pic.twitter.com/hNiBSah7kJ— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) October 25, 2018
LaVine scored 10 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter, joining Michael Jordan as the only players in Bulls history to score 30 or more points in the first four games of the season. LaVine’s outside shooting regressed a bit as he went 10-of-22 overall and 1-of-5 from 3, but he made up for that with plenty of explosive drives to the basket and 11 free throws on 12 attempts, both career highs.
LaVine also did some nice things as a playmaker in the second half, racking up five assists and setting up Payne for several 3-pointers.
Oh, right, Cameron Payne made freaking SEVEN 3-pointers in the second half. That’s right. Cameron Payne. Seven. 3-pointers. In a half. That tied a franchise record for a half, and the Bulls needed every single one of them.
Payne has been a punching bag, and for good reason. He has been a terrible player in his NBA career. He also got off to a terrible start in this game. While he had a few nice assists early, he also didn’t have a point in the first half and wasn’t even close on his shot attempts.
Then the second half started and he began making shots. And kept making them. And kept making them. Payne didn’t make a single triple in the the first three games, and then he made six in a row at one point in this one. I really have no explanation for it. I’ll just go with Stacey King’s “confidence” line.
Payne’s seventh and final trey of the night was a big one and perhaps the craziest. After badly missing on a floater attempt with the Bulls down 105-102 with just a few minutes left, he got his own rebound and immediately chucked a triple from the top of the key ... splash.
It was just that kind of night for Cameron Payne, and he deserves credit for shaking off the terrible first half (and first few minutes of the third quarter) and having the game of his life. He also shook off a foot injury suffered in the third quarter.
It would’ve been a real tough look for the Bulls to lose The Cameron Payne Game, especially because it felt like they were in control for much of the night. They went down eight points early, but then a surprising performance from a ragtag crew off the bench completely flipped the game.
Cristiano Felicio appears to have hopped Robin Lopez in the rotation, and he had a nice first-half stint and finished with nine points and five rebounds. Ryan Arcidiacono scored a career-high 10 points. Chandler Hutchison scored eight quick points and threw down a monster dunk:
Jabari Parker was also active on both ends of the floor in the first half. He challenged a Willy Hernangomez dunk attempt at the rim, was pushing the ball in transition, and he had several nice off-ball cuts to put himself in position for baskets around the rim. Parker had 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Bulls’ bench performance dried up in the second half, and when the Hornets turned an 11-point deficit into a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, it looked like another brutal loss was on deck. But LaVine and Payne provided enough offensively, while the Bulls got just enough stops to eek out the victory. It helped that Walker had an off shooting night and the Hornets shot just 10-of-35 on 3-pointers, but the Bulls’ defense showed more activity in this one. There were a few of the normal brutal breakdowns, but overall it’s a performance to build on.
On a more somber note, Bobby Portis went down with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and will get an MRI Thursday. K.C. Johnson reports there’s “internal concern he’ll miss extended time.” It would really stink if it’s serious not only given the Bulls’ injuries, but his contract year status after not securing an extension.
The Bulls play the Hornets in Charlotte on Friday.