The Bulls have struggled through the first quarter of the season in winnable games, regularly failing to actually win them. So it was nice to see the team string together four strong quarters of complete basketball and take care of business.
As Wednesday’s game began, the Bulls broadcast noted that the Atlanta Hawks had arrived in Chicago at 3am after losing an emotional game in Miami the prior night that stretched into overtime. Even a young team like Atlanta is vulnerable to the perils of sleep deprivation and dead legs, both of which appeared to plague the Hawks as they fell to the Bulls 136-102 in a game that lacked any drama. It was the sort of “taking care of business” performance that good teams have all the time. I won’t let myself grow accustomed.
LaVine Made Everything
Scoring 35 points in any NBA game is impressive, but Zach Lavine’s dominating performance against the Hawks is especially noteworthy given how efficient he was in hitting that total. LaVine made 12 of his 16 field goal attempts, shot a perfect 7/7 from beyond the arc, and converted on all four of his shots. LaVine becomes just the third player this decade to amass that many points on 16 or fewer FGA and four or fewer FTA.
LaVine’s shot chart was an analytical work of art. With just a pair of mid-range attempts on the night, Zach was in full attack mode throughout his 25 minutes on the court and took advantage of a clearly exhausted Hawks team. LaVine started strong against Atlanta’s 29th ranked defense, driving with the knowledge that nobody on the Hawks posed much of a threat to meet him at the rim.
LaVine easily could have eclipsed 40 points in this game had his services been needed in the fourth quarter. It was just one of those night for Zach where the rim must have looked like a hula-hoop. Atlanta’s pair of rookie wings were not up to the task of running LaVine off the three point line and allowed Zach to get into a rhythm on his jump shot.
That rhythm culminated in a heat check triple over the undersized Trae Young that counted for the final three points in one of LaVine’s best shooting games in his Bulls tenure.
In a league dominated by LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and a slew of ball dominant wings, the huge hole on the Bulls roster before the season began was depth at the small forward position. And after injuries to Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison, it appeared the Bulls were without a single player capable of playing the three. But Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine were up for the challenge, at least in this game, each providing valuable contributions and filling the void on the wing.
Dunn, the former point guard the future, has impressed this year in his reduced offensive role and has re-dedicated himself on the defensive end. Dunn played a huge part in limiting Trae Young to 15 points of 28.6% shooting. Two of Young’s seven turnovers were Dunn steals off of lazy passes by the Hawks guard, the second of which ended in a dramatic fast break dunk to close the half.
Dunn added a blocked shot on top of his three steals, which he was able to corral and push down the floor to a wide open Zach LaVine for an uncontested dunk.
Denzel Valentine soaked up the rest of he small forward minutes during the competitive portion of this game. He made four consecutive running floaters in the first quarter:
Valentine also filled out the rest of the box score as the night wore on: three rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks to go along with his 10 points.
Not only did the Hawks did not have the size or talent to take advantage of the patchwork wing rotation the Bulls threw out tonight, they were completely outplayed by at the position.
Trae Young is good even when he’s bad
This Hawks team can only go as far as their star point guard can drag them. Wednesday, that was not a far distance as Young could not find his shot, making just 4/14 from the field and connecting on only one three point shot.
But even on a night when the ball wasn’t going in, Trae Young made positive plays on offense and did his best to keep the Hawks competitive. Young amassed a game-high 13 assists on the night, most of which ended with his teammates converting uncontested dunks and layups.
Young was ready for the Bulls aggressive trapping scheme and was firing sharp passes to his pick and roll partners as soon as they slipped to the paint unguarded. He is well aware of the attention he commands from opposing defenses and is always looking to find his open teammates.
I thought the most telling stat about the Hawks in this game, and one that can really sum up their season, came from the box score at halftime. The Hawks trailed by 14 after two quarters, and Trae Young had shot just 2/11 from the field. But despite the shooting woes, Young was only a -1 in his 18 minutes on the floor. Exhausted and off his game, Trae Young is still able to keep his team afloat.