When the Minnesota Timberwolves visted the Chicago Bulls on a snowy night in the Windy City, it was a clash of the past versus the present. It was the new faces in Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine against the beloved Tom Thibodeau, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler. In their only national TV appearance of the year, the young Bulls played their hearts out and earned themselves a victory against their former coach and star player.
A lot of the credit, if not all, goes to the play of LaVine. He dropped 35 on his former team, shooting 12 of 26 from the field along with going 10 of 11 from the line and adding 5 rebounds to complete out his stat line. It was a star performance and one which Bulls fans hope LaVine can continue to show in the future.
LaVine’s main stretch of dominance came in the final minutes when he took over the game. He scored the last 10 points for Chicago while flashing his strengths on offense.
(1:42 -1:54) After scoring an impressive layup over Jimmy Butler and hitting a free throw at the line, LaVine decided to turn up the jets and remind the crowd how explosive he can be at the rim. The play starts with Jerian Grant at a standing dribble against Tyus Jones. LaVine is standing in the corner and is guarded by Jimmy Butler. Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen are rumbling down the floor as well with the latter moving towards the corner too. As soon as Markkanen reaches the corner, LaVine cuts diagonally to Taj Gibson, who is guarding the rookie, and sets a back screen on him. Meanwhile Portis’s man in Karl Anthony-Towns is more concerned about Grant and was situated right behind Jones for a couple of seconds before trying to go back to Portis. However the few seconds of time allows Portis to just come down and set a screen in front of Gibson, essentially trapping him. With Portis being the main screener now, LaVine dashes to three-point line and catches the ball without a defender in sight. Seeing how wide open his former teammate is, KAT sprints to the three-point line to contest. But there is one slight problem: LaVine didn’t take the three. Right when KAT got to the three-point line, LaVine caught him flat footed and out of position and drove straight to the basket. It was a clear path to the hoop, which was much in part due to the vacancy of the big man. Then with Portis boxing out Gibson, LaVine soared through the air and threw down an absolute hammer.
(1:57-2:12) This was by far LaVine’s best moment of the game. Again Chicago went with the off ball action of having him in the corner with Markkanen coming down there as well in order to force a switch action between Gibson and Butler. Again, LaVine dashed diagonally towards the three-point but didn’t set a screen on Gibson.
However the on ball action this was between Portis and Grant as the big man came and set a screen for the guard on his right as he was going towards the baseline near the T-Wolves bench. Instead of doing a classic switch, Thibs instead had KAT implement some of his famed defensive principles and cut off Grant’s path to the basket. With Jones getting over the screen, Grant was double teamed. After setting the screen, Portis went over to set a screen on Gibson again as LaVine was running past him. Gibson tried to get to LaVine but was met by Portis, who did just enough to throw Gibson off. So when Grant saw LaVine reach the three-point line, there was nobody around him. It was a simple kick out pass to LaVine and with not a defender in sight, he was able to rise and knock down the game tying three with ease.
The Bulls showed they valued LaVine being the guy down the stretch. It did come at the expense of Markkanen, as the rookie only had 7 field goal attempts throughout the whole game (something which should be a lot higher). Especially down the stretch where Fred Hoiberg used the same base set but two different varieties of it to get LaVine an open three and a dunk.
LaVine also came up with another clutch play in the final minute, drawing a three free throws with Chicago down 113-111 after Butler’s layup gave Minny the lead. Although it looked like a phantom call, LaVine did a good job of doing enough to at least look like he was fouled and force the ref to make a call. He of course then had to actually knock down three free throws, and it turned out to be the game winning play.
As the final piece of the Jimmy Butler trade this summer, there were a lot of questions about LaVine and his health this season. Anytime a player comes off an ACL injury, there are always questions. There was a lot of reasonable skepticism regarding LaVine’s injury and what type of player he will be when he comes back. He’s showing the explosiveness and shooting range which he showed in Minnesota. There are still a lot of questions about his overall game but scoring-wise LaVine seems to be just fine.