Zach LaVine apparently really loves playing against Jimmy Butler on national television.
Similar to last season’s thriller against the Timberwolves on ESPN, LaVine outdueled Butler and gave the Bulls the win in the waning moments. This time it was on a driving layup with 1.6 seconds to go, on a play where Butler and Mike Scott completely blew a switch:
Doris Burke with her best Tony Romo impression. pic.twitter.com/EmRHJ9UOKm— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) March 7, 2019
LaVine missed the free throw ... and then shenanigans ensued. The Sixers tried a lob pass to Butler that was knocked away, and it seemed like the game was over. The crowd was celebrating while exiting, LaVine was doing his postgame interview and most of the other players were leaving the court.
But the game wasn’t over.
The refs looked at the replay and determined that the clock had started too early, with the clock operator apparently thinking that Robin Lopez had tipped the inbounds pass. He did not, and the refs directed everybody back on the court to replay the final play. I’m not really sure why this happened because the initial play failed no matter what, but those are the rules and most of the players filtered back out there. I say most because Otto Porter Jr. was already getting a postgame drug test and couldn’t get back out there. Meanwhile, the United Center was basically empty.
The Bulls ultimately pulled out the 108-107 win when Butler fumbled away the inbounds pass on the second try, giving them a thrilling win on #FireGarPax night. I’m sure management is feeling pretty good about themselves after that outcome.
LaVine’s game-winner capped off a dominant 39-point performance, with 26 of those coming in the second half on 9-of-14 shooting. With no Joel Embiid in the lineup, LaVine ruthlessly attacked Scott in pick-and-rolls, getting downhill whenever he wanted and getting great looks time and time again. And don’t discount the presence of Lopez, whose massive screens opened up wide lanes for LaVine to drive.
Lopez has been consistently outstanding for a while now after the Bulls didn’t trade him and didn’t buy him out. He scored 13 first-quarter points en route to 19 for the game, and he was crucial down the stretch with that screen-setting and numerous hustle plays. He had five rebounds (three offensive) and two assists in the fourth quarter, and he was also a plus-11. Not to mention he hit a go-ahead free throw in the final minute before Butler’s two free throws momentarily gave the Sixers a one-point advantage, only to give it up thanks to that dreadful defensive gaffe while trying to guard LaVine.
Before the final few minutes, this game looked like it was going to be similar to the Pacers loss last night. The Sixers got off to a hot start, but then the Bulls reeled them back in before things went back and forth for a good chunk of the game, with neither team able to get separation. Philly finally got that separation in the fourth quarter, going up 98-88 with 6:01 to play.
The Sixers imploded from there, though, only managing nine points the rest of the way as LaVine took over. Otto Porter Jr. also hit multiple big shots, the first to stop the bleeding when the Bulls went down 10, and the second a huge 3-pointer to tie the game at 101-101 off a nice Kris Dunn pass. Porter’s miss came after J.J. Redick missed a wide-open look from 3-land that could’ve been a dagger. Make or miss league, as they say.
The Bulls didn’t even play all that well in this game, shooting 44.1 percent overall and 6-of-23 on 3-pointers. Lauri Markkanen had another sluggish game as he appears to be hitting a bit of a wall after his hot stretch, while Dunn continues to do next to nothing. Porter had an off shooting night overall as well (6-of-17).
But the Bulls made up for it by pounding the offensive glass (16 offensive rebounds), getting to the line (20-of-27) and getting a whole lot from LaVine. The guard was in attack mode from the start, and he attempted 13 of those 27 free throws.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this highlight, which featured PEAK Ryan Arcidiacono hustle:
We have our Bulls highlight of the year: pic.twitter.com/ppJUmjvAr9— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) March 7, 2019
How can you not be jacked and juiced after watching that?
Butler led the Sixers with 22 points, four assists and three steals, but his shooting faltered after a hot start. He went 6-of-9 in the first half and 2-of-9 in the second half.
The Bulls are now 19-47, and with the Hawks’ loss to the Spurs, the difference between Chicago and Atlanta is three games again, if you’re into following the lottery standings. The Bulls have another Friday/Sunday home-and-home coming up, this time against the red-hot Pistons.