February 22nd, 2018. Here we all are. “Trust the Process” vs. “Be Patient with This Process.”
That the Chicago Bulls would face the Philadelphia 76ers in their first game since the front office admitted publicly that they are going to actively make the team worse for the rest of the season is the very embodiment of the word “poetic.” Put simply, the Bulls—entering the final weeks of the NBA season—were/are in a desperate race to the bottom of the NBA while preparing to gear down into a new tier of garbage basketball. The fact that their opening competition for this undertaking would come against a team that just spent roughly the last four years doing the same thing is nothing short of serendipitous.
One way or another, this Bulls team was going to be bad. If it couldn’t happen organically, management was going to make it so. They did, and so tonight I tuned in fully hoping to reap the rewards.
For the first six minutes of this game, it looked like the Bulls had totally bought in to flushing the rest of their season down the drain. Cristiano Felicio was the only Bull that managed to register a field goal in the first five and a half minutes, and during that same stretch the Sixers were on pace for over 200 points. That’s not even remotely an exaggeration; the Sixers were quite literally up 25-7 with six and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter. I was smiling from ear to ear, laughing quietly as the Bulls appeared content to let the Sixers walk out of the United Center without missing the rim.
Bobby Portis must have heard me laughing at his team’s misfortune, because when this man checked into the game tonight, those crazy eyes of his turned into full-on fireballs. The Bulls were staring at a certain blowout before Chicago’s finest haymaker-thrower checked into the game, and he quickly helped close what became an 18 point gap to just a four point deficit by the end of the first quarter.
Portis’ buckets came from all over the place, which really drove home the fact that he’s an extremely dynamic scoring threat when he shows up with some touch on his shot. His opening eight minutes saw most of his offensive production come from under the basket; but Portis put the ball in on drives, close looks, and a tip-in to still showcase some of his scoring versatility. The second quarter was a totally different story, as Portis proceeded to knock in four of his five attempts from distance during the period with all of his makes coming from at least 25 feet. Portis’ scalding shooting spearheaded what ultimately became a 40 point quarter for the Bulls, and the team miraculously took a 69-67 lead into the halftime locker room after looking like a dead squad walking in the game’s opening minutes.
The second half proved to be hotly contested all the way down to the final seconds of play, with Portis continuing to score throughout and David Nwaba putting up a nice complementary performance of his own. Though Nwaba didn’t have much of an answer for Ben Simmons defensively, he still finished the game with 21 points on 9-14 shooting and also snagged nine rebounds in his first start stemming from the Holiday-Lopez shutdown. Unfortunately, the good performances from the young guys the Bulls wanted to see pretty much ended there, as everyone else ranged from below expectations to flat-out abhorrent. We’ll get to that shortly.
The Bulls began the final minute of this game with a five point lead after Zach LaVine hit a massive three pointer to put the Bulls ahead 115-110. When the Sixers missed a jumper at the other end merely two seconds after a timeout and LaVine corralled the rebound, the game firmly appeared the be within the Bulls’ grasp. But then Portis missed a jumper in his pursuit of a 40 point game, Simmons scored less than ten seconds later on the other end, and suddenly the game’s score stood only a basket apart once again.
On the next possession, LaVine and Portis both missed shots, and the Bulls decided to foul when the Sixers got the ball up the floor with under ten seconds remaining. J.J. Redick sank both of his resulting freethrows, and when the Bulls attempted to inbound the ball on the following possession...
Denzel Valentine threw the ball away to Joel Embiid... and then fouled Ben Simmons... in less than half a second combined ... with less than six seconds remaining in the game... with a one point lead.
(Replay showed Embiid was juuuust out of bounds when he stole the ball, but whatever)
If Chicago somehow ends up with Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton four months from now, Rahm Emanuel needs to award Denzel Valentine a key to the city for throwing away what was almost certainly going to be a slam dunk win for the Bulls. Anyway, Simmons sank both freethrows to take the lead, and the Bulls missed two looks at the rim as time expired to drop what had become an exhilarating game by a final score of 116-115.
Though Portis missed what would have been the game-winner at the end—after vowing during the game that he was going to get 40—Crazy Eyes still finished the game with 38 points off the bench on 15-26 shooting (6-9 from distance) alongside eight rebounds and two assists. It was easily the best game of Portis’ career, and the 38 points off the bench were the most by any Bulls player since Ben Gordon dropped 41 points as the Bulls’ scintillating sixth man on January 2nd, 2007 (take the night off, MikeFromIllinois!).
However, as alluded to earlier in the recap, the Bulls’ young players mostly stunk it up in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn combined for only 8 points on a ghastly 3-19 combined shooting performance, with neither player making a single field goal from three point range. Cristiano Felicio scored all five of his points in the first two minutes of the game, but recorded as many fouls as rebounds (3) and finished with a -20 in only 12 minutes. LaVine hiself was decent with 23 points on 7-16 shooting, and Cameron Payne actually managed to contribute seven assists off the bench, but otherwise it was an extremely forgettable evening for many of the young players that management indicated they want to get a better look at as the season winds down to a close.
This was a great loss for #TeamTank, though it certainly doesn’t bode well for the Bulls being bad given they only lost by one to a solid team on a night where most of their talent played as if they were totally devoid of it. Either way, it was an exciting game from six minutes on for Bulls fans and a career night for Bobby Portis, so it’s hard to complain. The Bulls will have Friday off before taking on Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau on Saturday night for the second and final time this season.