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The Bulls 2nd-half collapse against the Lakers had something for everybody

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ouch my growth plate

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Bulls held a 19-point lead at their highest point, and led by 13 heading into the 4th quarter only to blow the game against the Lakers on Tuesday. This wasn’t a collapse where the lead slowly was chipped away by the stars of Los Angeles and they were barely overtaken: the Lakers turned it around without either LeBron James or Anthony Davis on the floor, building a double-digit lead themselves with under 3 minutes to go before some garbage-time buckets made the final score look better.

The critical stretch occurred in a nearly 7-minute segment spanning the 3rd and 4th quarters, where the Bulls deployed an all-bench lineup of Kris Dunn, Coby White, Chandler Hutchison (making is season debut), Thaddeus Young, and Luke Kornet. They were outscored by 11 points to bring the lead down to four.

As you can see, a lot of bad here to where bleeding 11 points seems like a small victory. The Lakers were able to put up 6 more attempts in this time due to multiple offensive rebounds. Chicago, which is the worst defensive rebounding team in the league, posted a 73% Defensive Rebounding percentage last night. Which actually is one of their better games, but still would be league-worst for a season.

They also turned the ball over and took some poor shots. Coby White had a brilliant first half (16 points) but int his time took a junk step-back 3 with a foot on the line, and another attempt was easily swatted by Dwight Howard. He also had a turnover, with Thad Young committing two and Chandler Hutchison’s minimal usage resulting in a traveling violation. Young and Hutchison also went 0-4 from the line.

It begs the question of why Jim Boylen’s young team with a growth plate (?) really should leave a group out there so long without any starters. Boylen not only deflected in his answer but outright lied, to Jon Greenberg of The Athletic and others in the assembled media room:

“Because I’m going to develop this bench and develop this team,” Boylen said. “I got 15 guys to develop and I’m going to play them in those moments and they’re going to learn how to play winning basketball. I never yanked guys, I’ve never done that. I’m not doing that. We’re going to develop that second group and we’re going to have a bench here in Chicago. I’m going to keep coaching it.”

Everyone was kind of stunned. Boylen, of course, has yanked guys. He did in the beginning of his coaching stint last season, doing five-man substitutions to embarrass his starters and indoctrinate them into the Boylen way of Bulls basketball. Never yank guys? Is this middle school?

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Why did he wait so long to stop the bleeding and insert his best players? He probably just got caught up in the game. That happens to coaches. But according to Jim…

“Because we’ve got to figure it out,” he said. “We’ve got to learn. We’ve got to settle down. And I want to see somebody take control and take over the thing. That’s where we’ve got to grow. I had four, I think. I could have used one and I didn’t. It was on my heart. It was on my mind. Timeouts got nothing to do with a free-throw line box out. Timeouts got nothing to do with moving it to the next guy. It doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

To that, I say: Hey man, just win a game. Your record is 19-47. This was a game that cried for immediacy. A win over the Lakers would do more for the self-esteem and bonhomie of this team than any hard lessons from a loss.

Boylen might want to worry about the starters learning how to play winning basketball before he worries about the end-game development of Chandler Hutchison and Luke Kornet.

Indeed, the starters began to trickle back in with Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter after the lead was already down to four (and as mentioned, no timeout taken). They fared no better. For one thing they were now dealing with a rested LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they also sucked eggs themselves.

Looking at the stretch from when Boylen finally started putting in his better players until an Anthony Davis corner-3 put them up thirteen with 2:40 remaining, it was a bloodbath.

At least they didn’t give up more offensive rebounds, but did have 5 turnovers. 2 came from Lauri Markkanen, who was truly brutal.

As you can see, by that time the lead was not only blown but they were looking at a double-digit deficit. The starters were likely already lost. Definitely not good that they don’t have the top-end talent to withstand such pressure, but they were also not given a chance to hold on to the lead as their coach decided to ‘grow the bench’ instead.

So much of the Boylen experience is rightfully focused on if this guy can actually lead without sounding out of his depth, that we don’t even get to the more nuanced tactical elements of the job. The Bulls built a huge lead in this game with a steal-hunting defense and 3-point shotmaking, but a lot of that had to do with the Lakers screwing around. Once they shored up their own mistakes in the 2nd half and used the Bulls over-aggression against them, Boylen didn’t adjust back.