It was an emotional night in Chicago and all around the NBA as the league paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. In a rather wild finish, the Bulls stole a 110-109 victory over the Spurs after Zach LaVine made two free throws with 2.1 seconds left and then DeMar DeRozan missed the game-tying free throw with 0.2 seconds left. Both LaVine and DeRozan went to the line on rather questionable calls, but Zach made his freebies count.
LaVine, who idolized Kobe and wears No. 8 in part because of him, played the hero after really struggling through the first three quarters. He scored 14 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-of-8 from the final frame after starting 3-of-14 to make it 15 straight games with 20-plus points, matching the longest such streak of his career.
The last missed free throw aside, DeRozan was terrific, going for a game-high 36 points on 11-of-21 shooting and 14-of-17 from the line. With LaMarcus Aldridge out, DeRozan was aggressive all night long, using his size and physicality to get to his preferred spots on the floor in the mid-range and around the bucket. Kris Dunn did an admirable job defending him, but DeRozan got the better of him throughout the night.
While Patty Mills aided DeRozan with 25 points off the bench and Jakob Poeltl had a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double in place of LMA in the starting lineup, it was the shorthanded Bulls’ supporting cast that won them this game. Six other Bulls besides LaVine scored in double figures, with Denzel Valentine the most notable contributor with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench. He was a plus-19 in those minutes.
It was Valentine who kept the Bulls in the game when it looked like they were about to get blown out late into the third quarter and early into the fourth. He hit three triples over a span of about three minutes, and then LaVine and ... Luke Kornet kicked things into high gear to help the Bulls surge ahead after trailing 90-79 early in the fourth. The Bulls went on a 22-6 run over a span of about five minutes, with Kornet scoring seven of those points. He had 12 points and was a plus-18. Perhaps this funky scoreboard malfunction also aided the comeback:
Tomas Satoransky (13), Thaddeus Young (13), Coby White (11) and Dunn (10) all reached double figures in scoring as well in the balanced effort. Chandler Hutchison almost got there with eight points and maybe the best play of his career:
Dunn had eight assists as the Bulls racked up 28 of them on the night, though a late turnover (the Bulls had a few bad ones late) and the final foul on DeRozan nearly made him a goat.
The Bulls’ balanced effort and 35 points in the fourth quarter certainly helped them win, but the Spurs’ missed free throws were also a major factor. Outside of DeRozan’s clutch miss, Poeltl went just 2-of-8 from the line as the Spurs went 23-of-34 as a team. Jim Boylen even went to Hack-a-Jak on several straight possessions in the fourth quarter, and Poeltl made just 1-of-4 from the charity stripe.
While this game turned into an entertaining one, the focus early on was on Kobe. The Bulls played a tribute video to honor the late legend and then held a 24-second moment of silence:
Bulls honor Kobe with a video tribute and 24 seconds of silence prior to tip in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/zAxvhvdfKr— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) January 28, 2020
To start the game, the Bulls took an 8-second violation before the Spurs took a 24-second violation in honor of The Black Mamba. “Kobe” chants broke out across the UC:
Chants of "Kobe" erupt at the United Center as the Bulls take an 8-second backcourt violation, followed by the Spurs taking a 24-second shot clock violation. pic.twitter.com/dhap6umSzl— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 28, 2020
It has been a surreal few days around the NBA in the wake of Kobe’s tragic death in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Looking ahead for the Bulls, they now sit at 19-30 with a three-game road trip on the docket, with Victor Oladipo’s return game in Indy coming up on Wednesday. The Bulls are now just two games out of the No. 8 seed (Nets) and 2.5 games back of the No. 7 seed (Magic) because they continue to take care of business against bad teams, while those teams ahead of them falter. This season still feels so futile because of the current injuries, but the Bulls are staying in it.