It’s no secret that Zach LaVine is the Chicago Bulls most important player on offense. He is their most potent scorer, and one of the few players on this roster who can go out and get his own shot on any given possession. And he takes on the role, leading the Bulls in points per game (23.5), field goal attempts per game (18.2), and usage percentage (30.6).
And when the game is in the balance, the ball is almost certainly in his hands. While there have been frustrating times where LaVine has tried to do too much, his late game execution has gotten better as of late. He had the smart play late against Washington in overtime to dump it off to Wendell Carter Jr. for the game winning bucket. He also scored a clutch three-point play to help them upset the Clippers last week.
Against the Detroit Pistons, LaVine had one of his better performances of the season, especially in the second half. Along with picking up five rebounds and five assists, LaVine scored 33 points for Chicago on 60 percent from the field (nine of 15) and five of seven from three. LaVine also lived at the line against Detroit, making 10 of his 14 free throw attempts. LaVine shot more free throw attempts than the entire Pistons team combined (12).
LaVine’s effort in the second half, where he scored 20, sparked a Chicago run in the fourth quarter which sealed the game. After a 7-0 game-tying run by Detroit to start the quarter, Jim Boylen quickly re-inserted LaVine into the fray. Chicago then went on a 17-5 run in the next eight minutes to give themselves some breathing room and a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Chicago showed signs of a team which was learning how to close games and LaVine was a key cog in that. He was draining step back jumpers and finding guys cutting to the basket for easy dunks. He scored nearly half of Chicago’s points during that run, scoring eight of the 17. LaVine showed off not only his scoring but playmaking ability.
Coming off a miss, the Bulls were looking to find an easy basket in semi-transition. Chicago had a 19-8 advantage in fast break points over Detroit and it was evident they were finding mismatches. LaVine crosses the halfway line and instead of pushing it towards the basket, where he would be met by two defenders, he pulls up near the three-point line. There he spots Lauri Markkanen adjacent to him. While the rest of Detroit’s defense is on the edge of the three-point line, Markkanen’s defender isn’t. Andre Drummond is a step or two behind his man and is sprinting back. LaVine sees this and makes a smart bounce pass towards the direction of Markkanen. LaVine just doesn’t throw it to Markkanen, he slings it to the area in which he will be. He leads Markkanen towards the hoop with the pass and Lauri is able to catch, take one dribble, and lay it up for two points. With defenses so focused on stopping LaVine, there are open areas for the other Bulls players to get an easy shot. Especially in transition like scenarios where defenders are usually ball watching. Good on the duo of LaVine and Markkanen for both recognizing there was an easy basket to be made from this sequence.
This wouldn’t be a Bulls run without some typical tough-shot making from LaVine. With nine seconds left on the shot clock, Chicago needs to get a good shot and in a hurry. At this point, they had just won a jump ball and a basket could push the lead to seven, the highest it has been this quarter. Things don’t look so good when Markkanen tries to drive and he’s met by Markieff Morris. So he switches to his right hand and sees LaVine running towards him. Then after flipping the ball to him, Markkanen instinctively tries to set a screen for LaVine. Although he didn’t make any contact with Bruce Brown Jr., Markkanen forces the Pistons guard to at least think about the screen and slows him down just a bit. This gives LaVine the space to drive to his left. Brown is thinking this too and immediately tries to cut that area off when he gets in front of LaVine. However, LaVine never gets even near the free throw line. He steps back, watching Brown go right by him. With the extra space, LaVine is able to fire away with ease. He knocks down the three and gives the Bulls a 106-99 lead with less than four to go.
When Chicago needed him the most, LaVine stepped up. He’s not doing it alone: Lauri Markkanen has shown signs of life, Kris Dunn was driving to the paint, Tomas Satoransky scored 16 points along with eight rebounds while WCJ picked up another double-double. But it was through the smart decisions of LaVine, their best offensive option, where Chicago pulled away from Detroit.