There were questions about how the offensive hierarchy would go in crunch time for this team once Lauri Markkanen returned to the court. For tonight at least, the answer seems to be Markkanen himself, and and he delivered against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had a clutch assist and the game wining basket in the final seconds as Chicago got their 1st win in the Jim Boylen era.
LAURI MARKKANEN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! BULLS WIN! pic.twitter.com/lajYPfHbrd— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) December 8, 2018
In their final try, the Thunder had a good shot to answer for the win, as Paul George was open for the entry pass at the top of the key. But what looked like an easy three-pointer clanked off the back of the rim. Chicago notched their 6th win of the year in dramatic fashion with a final score of 114-112.
Things began to pick up in the 4th with around 9 minutes left. The Bulls quickly scored 6 points in a row thanks to buckets from Markkanen along with dunks from Shaq Harrison and LaVine. It cut the OKC lead to 98-97, but Russell Westbrook responded with a clutch three-point play to stop the momentum for a bit. With around 7 minutes left, WCJ knocked down a free-throw and tied it up at 100 a piece. Then off a Westbrook turnover, LaVine took a screen from WCJ, pulled up and drained a three at the top of the arc to provide a 103-100 lead with 6 minutes to go.
Wendell Carter Jr. had a decent performance tonight but his best moment came in the 4th quarter when he blocked Westbrook and Jerami Grant in the same offensive possession. It got the crowd all hyped up as he challenged Westbrook at the rim and got his hand on the ball to prevent the slam.
But Westbrook was undeterred, later able to draw contact and split a pair of free throws to cut the Bulls lead to one with 1:24 left. Then for the Bullsm while actually getting a good shot as LaVine was streaking down the lane with only Westbrook in front of him, LaVine seemed to misjudge his angles and ended up missing the rim completely on the layup attempt. OKC next couldn’t find success on offense either with a crazy possession ending in Ryan Arcidicano drawing an offensive foul.
LaVine followed with another late mistake, as a simple pass from him to Holiday was picked off from Paul George, leading to an easy basket in transition to give OKC a 110-109 lead.
Down a point with less than a minute to go, the Bulls needed a good play out of a timeout. They had Arcidiacano bring the ball up and he ran a DHO with Markkanen. With Dennis Schroder on him, Markkanen drove to the basket where the Thunder defense collapsed on him. He spotted Holiday in the corner and the veteran knocked it down.
After an OKC answer and with no timeouts, the Bulls decided to use Markkanen in a DHO situation again, resulting in the Bulls final basket you saw above.
Back to the beginning of this game, which went very well for the Bulls. They put up 70 points going 9-18 from three against one of the top ranked defenses in the NBA.
The first quarter began with both teams trading baskets and keeping pace with each other. Offensively Chicago had a very good first quarter, putting up 34 in the frame. As it usually is in the beginning of games, Zach LaVine was the offensive catalyst for Chicago. He had 11 points in the first quarter and it efficiently as well (4 of 5 from the field). Markkanen and Lopez pitched in with 6 a piece. Halfway through the quarter, Oklahoma City began to falter offensively and went into a cold streak. The Bulls took advantage, going on a 12-3 run to expand their lead to nearly double digits. However Oklahoma City made a couple of quick baskets late to make it 34-28 in favor of Chicago after one.
If the first quarter belonged to LaVine, then the second was all Markkanen’s. In only his third game back, Markkanen went off in the quarter. He scored 10 points and showed his lethal range from downtown. Oklahoma City was giving him space to fire from three and he made them pay almost every time. He was 4 of 6 from downtown in the half and looked like his old self shooting the ball. Markkanen was finding the shots he wanted and the offense began to flow for a bit when he was the main guy getting the ball. In fact, it was Markkanen’s three-pointer with 8:43 left in the half which gave the Bulls an 11-point lead at 48-37. Oklahoma City did their best to get this into single digits and close for the rest of the half. They succeeded and were only down 8 at the end of the half but behind Markkanen’s play the Bulls did a good job at keeping the Thunder at bay. As the two teams walked back to the locker room, it was a 70-62 lead for Chicago and you had to be pleasantly surprised in how they were playing offensively. They were shooting great and to top it off Markkanen and LaVine were leading the way.
The first two quarters were good from Chicago, the third quarter wasn’t. Oklahoma City seemed to come out of the locker room energized, going on a 13-4 run and taking the lead halfway through the quarter thanks to a Jerami Grant three-pointer. The only highlight from Chicago during this stretch was a play from Markkanen where he blew by a Paul George closeout, went to the rim, and slammed it home.
The power of the three-point shot. Making four in the first half, Paul George closes out hard. Markkanen puts in on the deck for the slam. pic.twitter.com/a7WVMrRUaE— Mark (@mkhoops) December 8, 2018
There was also a bit of a scare for Markkanen as he collided with a defender while setting a screen. He was in a bit of pain and favoring his right elbow . This got attention from the Bulls medical staff because of it. There were some nervy moments as the concern was heightened with the injury being to his shooting elbow, the one which caused him to miss all but 3 games so far this season. Thankfully, he seemed to be ok and obviously came back to play well in crunch time.
Despite the positive in regards to Markkanen’s status, the exact opposite was happening on the court in that quarter. Oklahoma City outscored Chicago 29-17 in the third and honestly it could have been a lot worse. This was on the verge of being a blowout if not for a late Bulls run to get them back into the game. At the end of three, it was a 91-87 OKC, it easily could have been a huge double-digit lead for the visitors. But the Bulls made their run and Lauri finished it off.
LaVine led the way for all scorers with 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting. Markkanen had 24 points with 7 rebounds and Holiday added 20. Jabari Parker was a spark off the bench with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.
As for Oklahoma City, they were led by Westbrook’s 24 while also getting 21 from Steven Adams and 19 from Schroeder. Despite shooting 45.7%, their offense struggled at times, mostly due to 22 turnovers.
Next up is a matchup against the Boston Celtics tomorrow night at the United Center.