The Bulls badly needed a win to close their three-game road trip, and it looked like they were going to cruise to one when they took a 69-50 lead over the Kings early in the third quarter. The lead was still at 13 points early in the fourth quarter, but in typical Bulls fashion, things got real dicey as the Kings charged back to within two points on multiple occasions in the final minutes.
Thankfully, the Bulls finally got both clutch plays and big performances out of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen at the same time to help seal a 113-106 victory. Markkanen connected on four consecutive free throws down the stretch after taking advantage of mismatches to draw fouls (credit to Kris Dunn for getting him the ball), and LaVine hit a big 3-pointer with just over a minute to play off another nice feed from Dunn. The Bulls dodged one more bullet following a turnover when Buddy Hield clanked one of the many open triples he missed on the night (3-of-13 from deep), which would have made it a one-point game with about 36 seconds to play. Just minutes earlier, Hield badly bricked a pull-up 3-pointer in transition that would have put the Kings up one.
LaVine and Markkanen finally hit the 20-point mark in the same game for the first time this season. LaVine led the way with an efficient 28 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 20 of those points coming in the second half. Markkanen added an even 20 points. The duo’s 3-point shooting was huge in this one, as they combined to go 9-of-15 from 3-point land. The Kings as a team went just 9-of-33 from distance. The Bulls shot 16-of-37 on 3s and 48.0% overall.
The Bulls actually started this game ice cold from beyond the arc, which helped the Kings run out to a 23-12 lead. While Chicago couldn’t hit a shot, the Kings were picking apart the Bulls’ aggressive defense, getting layup after layup with smart ball movement and cutting.
The game totally flipped when the benches came in. After the Kings grabbed that 11-point lead, the Bulls went on a 10-run to finish the first quarter. The long run extended into the second quarter as the Bulls forced a whole mess of turnovers while the Kings couldn’t buy a shot from 3-point land. The Bulls wound up going on an extended 36-8 surge over about a 12-minute stretch, with the bench doing a lot of that damage before the starters came in and kept up the pace. The Kings finally stopped the bleeding toward the end of the half, but it was still 55-44 at the break.
The Bulls shot 65.0% in the second quarter, and they continued to score at will at the start of the third quarter. That’s how they built that 19-point lead, but an easy victory was apparently too much to ask for. The offense stagnated a bit and the Kings did just enough to stay within striking distance, though the Bulls continued to hit big 3-pointers right when it looked like Sacramento may really go on a run.
It wasn’t until midway through the fourth where the Bulls started totally imploding, committing bad turnover after bad turnover (eight giveaways in the final frame) while not getting any stops on the other end. Luckily, the Bulls made just enough plays to avoid another total collapse, though playing so well and then nearly blowing that huge lead against a shorthanded Kings team (De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III still out) left a somewhat sour taste in the mouth. Still, an ugly win is better than another embarrassing loss, and I do have to point out that the mighty Nuggets just blew a huge lead in Sacramento the other night.
In addition to LaVine and Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. notched another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, though he committed five turnovers and got hit with several more ticky-tack fouls. Tomas Satoransky added 14 points and five assists, with 12 points coming in the second half. Coby White led the Bulls’ bench brigade with 11 points as Chicago’s reserves outscored Sacramento’s, 35-24. Interestingly enough, every Bulls reserve was a double-digit plus in plus-minus, while all five starters were in the minus.
The Bulls now have two must-win home games against the Grizzlies and Warriors this week. They simply can’t lose these games if they want to turn things around. Beating these teams won’t make anybody feel all that great, but losing either of these games would be inexcusable.