Zach LaVine seems to love to play in the few primetime games the Bulls get. We saw it last season against the Timberwolves, fans got another glimpse of it against another Jimmy Butler team, this time the Philadelphia 76ers.
LaVine scored 4 of his 39 points in the final minute as Chicago made a last dash to steal a 108-107 victory against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Although he didn’t shoot well from three, it was a great game from LaVine. He was aggressive in finding his shot, went to the free throw line 13 times which was more than the rest of the Bulls players combined. Overall it was a below average offensive performance from Chicago as they shot a TS percentage of 51.5 and shot 26.1% from three-point land, but they received standout performances from LaVine and Robin Lopez.
With 1:52 left in the ball game, Jimmy Butler knocked down two free throws to put the Sixers up four and Chicago was on the ropes. A LaVine jumper got it back to a two-point game and thanks to a turnover by Ben Simmons, the Bulls had the ball with 58.1 seconds left on the clock.
LaVine has the ball near the logo and with 50.8 left on the clock, he gets a screen from Robin Lopez and goes to his right. The 76ers respond to this with a switch with Mike Scott now guarding LaVine. Scott doesn’t step up right when the pick happens so when LaVine goes around Lopez he has some room at the top of the three-point line to operate. As soon as he sees Scott in front of him, LaVine does a little hesitation move and changes directions to his left. Scott gets caught off guard just a bit and allows some driving room into the paint. However he recovers quite well and cuts off a straight path to the basket for LaVine. When he gets to the restricted circle, LaVine knows his offensive options are limited. A layup would most likely get blocked by Scott or end up being a wild attempt with a low chance of going in. With all of the other Bulls either on the three-point line or outside the paint (Lopez), a kick out isn’t the smartest option either. He has to take a shot. LaVine leans into Scott and absorbs the contact, bouncing off him. Falling away so Scott can’t reach his shot, LaVine chooses to go with a one handed floater instead of a jumper. There was nothing Philadelphia could do as the ball went straight though the hoop to tie the game.
After a Tobias Harris missed layup which led to Robin Lopez splitting free throws, the Bulls looked for a stop on the defensive end. Things didn’t go to plan as the possession ended up with Butler knocking down two free throws to give Philly the 107-106 lead with 4.8 seconds left on the clock. The Bulls needed a quality look coming off the timeout.
The play begins with LaVine as the inbound and Butler guarding him. To prevent a corner three, Butler backs off and it’s clear the Sixers are content with Chicago getting a clean catch out of the inbounds play. The action sees Lauri Markkanen and Lopez run towards each other, indicating a screen at the free throw line. At the last minute, Lopez pivots towards the ball and runs towards LaVine. Markkanen runs to the corner as LaVine passes it to Lopez. As soon as the ball touches Lopez’s hands, LaVine takes off to the top of the three-point line. Lopez grabs the ball and flips to LaVine, who is running around him. Butler sees this dribble hand-off play and looks like he got past Lopez and will switch onto LaVine. But when LaVine drives to the basket, he switches back to covering Lopez. Scott, who was guarding Lopez on the play, initially switches correctly and steps up just a bit to make LaVine hesitate. The problem comes when LaVine turns the corner. Both Sixer defenders run towards Lopez leaving nobody to even get a body in front of LaVine on his way to the rim. Scott recognizes the miscommunication and runs back to try and atone for the error. Ben Simmons, who is guarding Markkanen in the corner, is there for the help defense and drops down to contest. LaVine sees both of the defenders coming and when he gets to the free throw line, he jumps. He avoids the hands of Simmons, gets bumped by Scott, and now finds himself right in front of the hoop in one motion. LaVine then flips up the ball as he is coming down. The ball bounces off the glass and in, giving the Bulls the lead and the victory.
This was another huge game from LaVine, who has seemed to broken out of the mini-slump he was in after the 4OT game in Atlanta. When the lights were on and the Bulls needed him the most, LaVine stepped up with some tough shotmaking.