The Bulls played their best half of basketball this season in the first half against the Lakers on Tuesday night at the United Center. They even held a 13-point lead going into the fourth quarter after being up 65-47 at the break.
What followed was a meltdown of epic proportion.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 14-0 run despite LeBron James and Anthony Davis being on the bench, and the run reached 16-0 right after LeBron checked back in. The Bulls stemmed the tide momentarily with four straight points, but then the Lakers went on a 13-0 run to effectively end the game as their fans took over the United Center. The Lakers outscored the Bulls 38-14 in the fourth quarter before five garbage time points from Chandler Hutchison made it 38-19 in the final frame and a 118-112 final score.
Hey, at least the Bulls covered.
The killer run to start the fourth quarter was powered by the Lakers’ bench, which was horrific in the first half. Kyle Kuzma, who was notoriously bad in that opening half, caught fire with nine points during the 16-0 charge. Dwight Howard ratcheted up his intensity and made plays on both ends. Quinn Cook and Alex Caruso were all over the place.
Meanwhile, the Bulls’ all-bench lineup was stuck in the mud while Jim Boylen did nothing about it. He finally made some subs when it was down to a four-point game, and he didn’t call a timeout until that 16-0 run was complete.
Of course, it’s not like things were much better once the starters were back on the floor. By this point the Lakers were fully locked in on both ends, with LeBron controlling everything as the point guard while also dominating defensively. The Bulls’ offense struggled to get good shots, and that’s when they were even getting shots up at all. They turned it over seven times in the fourth quarter, leading to 10 Lakers points.
LeBron recorded his third straight triple-double with 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He was also a plus-17 and really the only Laker to show up for the entire night. The Lakers were a mess in that opening half (AD was all out of sorts), but LeBron helped keep them within striking distance, though it truly looked like the Bulls were going to win this one when they went up 18 points with under five minutes to play in the third quarter. But a quarter later, LeBron and AD were going Showtime on the Bulls to close them out.
As for the Bulls, their overall offensive showing looks pretty good on paper. They shot over 50% against the best defense in the league and made 14 3-pointers. However, they stunk again at the free-throw line (12-of-23), turned the ball over a bunch (16) and couldn’t get buckets when it mattered, sullying what truly had been a terrific showing through three quarters.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 26/7/7 on 9-of-18 shooting, though I can’t help but remember the contested mid-range fadeaway he air balled when the Bulls could have used a much better shot down four points with the game teetering in the balance. Quinn Cook buried a 3-pointer on the other end to make it a seven-point game.
Coby White had a monster first half with 16 points, but he only finished with 18 as his hot shooting cooled off. Otto Porter Jr. had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from 3, but he didn’t do much else in the box score. Wendell Carter Jr. had another double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Then there’s Lauri Markkanen, who was an absolute disaster all game. He finished with just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and three rebounds in 30 minutes, which is inexcusable at this point. He got punked multiple times by LeBron and AD, and he had several ugly turnovers in the fourth quarter where he just got bullied. I think it’s time to be reasonably worried about his performance, which has not been good since that season opener. He’s not shooting well, playing poor defense and is just plain soft. Out of all the disappointing things to start this season, he’s the biggest one.
Finally, as for Hutchison’s debut, he played fine enough defense and was invisible on offense until garbage time, so basically the same as last season.
The Bulls are now 2-6 and head to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Wednesday. We’ll see how they respond to this collapse.