While the Bulls are currently shorthanded thanks to COVID-19 issues, they certainly caught a break with Luka Doncic sitting out Sunday night’s game due to a quad injury. With the Mavericks missing their two stars (Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t played yet this season), there was no excuse for the Bulls to come up short on their home floor.
For a good chunk of the game it looked like the Bulls were going to disappoint despite a monster first half from Zach LaVine, but they finally took control in the second half and earned a 118-108 victory.
It was the LaVine vs. Jalen Brunson show in the first half, with LaVine going for 21 points in the first quarter and 29 in the opening half on 12-of-18 shooting. As incredible as LaVine’s scoring display was in that first half, the Mavericks held a 60-59 halftime advantage thanks to Brunson’s 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, as the backup guard channeled his inner Doncic with a variety of ridiculous shots and nifty assists.
The Bulls were trailing late into the third quarter until the tide finally turned, with Daniel Gafford yet again providing a spark off the bench. The Bulls took a five-point lead into the final quarter, and that was when Coby White exploded to lead the Bulls to a win.
White was quiet in the first half, notching just two points and clearly struggling as LaVine did his thing. The young Bulls point guard started to perk up in the third quarter before fully erupting for 15 fourth-quarter points, giving him 23 for the game on an efficient 7-of-14 from the field and 4-of-9 on 3-pointers. He also had seven rebounds, four assists and four turnovers.
The Mavericks stayed within striking distance in the fourth quarter despite their shooting going into the dumpster, thanks in large part to 16 free-throw attempts (they made only 10) in the final frame. The margin was even trimmed back down to two points with just over three minutes remaining, but LaVine drew a foul and hit two free throws and then found Otto Porter Jr. with a sweet pass to make it a six-point game again:
Beautiful placement on this pass by Zach LaVine to hit the roll man Otto Porter for the layup pic.twitter.com/5bQOJASsfr— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) January 4, 2021
Moments later, White hit a ridiculous dagger step-back 3-pointer:
The Mavericks had three straight chances to make things interesting again in the final minute, but they bricked all three 3-pointers to finish 1-of-12 from deep in the fourth quarter and 11-of-42 for the game. That was that as the Bulls won their third game in four tries to move to a pretty wild 3-4 on the season.
LaVine didn’t ultimately have the truly monster game one might expect after 29 first-half points, but he still finished with an impressive 39 points on 14-of-25 from the field to go along with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. While Brunson did well to get 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson and Trey Burke couldn’t pick up the slack in Doncic’s absence. Hardaway was especially bad, shooting 4-of-15 from the field, 2-of-12 from 3-land and recording a game-worst minus-16.
The Bulls didn’t get any truly notable performances outside of their starting backcourt, but Gafford’s 12 points and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line made for a commendable line. Chicago was plus-12 in Gafford’s minutes, which was especially useful as Wendell Carter Jr. struggled in this one and was pulled late as Billy Donovan went with Thaddeus Young at the 5 to close out the game. Otto Porter Jr. also added 15 points and seven rebounds in a solid performance, even if his shooting (4-of-11) wasn’t all that great. Patrick Williams should be commended as well for a few of his defensive plays, as he racked up three steals and two blocks.
The Bulls now head on a four-game West Coast trip, starting with a tough game against the Blazers on Tuesday. In addition to Chandler Hutchison’s positive COVID-19 test, Tomas Satoransky is out for a while due to his own positive test. Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono remain in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and it’s unclear when they’ll be able to return to action.