The Bulls had a prime opportunity to go over .500 for the first time since March 2017 against the Kings on Wednesday night. While it was the second of a road back-to-back and their fifth game in seven nights with some key players still out, this felt like a game the Bulls should have won once De’Aaron Fox left after just five minutes and didn’t return.
Unfortunately, the Bulls couldn’t get the key stops needed down the stretch, resulting in a disappointing 128-124 loss. Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton delivered the daggers, with Hield hitting a 3-pointer while getting fouled to redeem himself at the end of a brutal shooting night (3-of-15) and Haliburton burying a filthy corner triple in the final minute. The rookie had 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and really impressed with Fox out, racking up seven assists, six assists and three steals.
While Haliburton was terrific, he wasn’t the best young point guard on the court. That would be Coby White, who put forth the best performance of his young career, making this loss even more disappointing. White scored a career-high 36 points on 15-of-23 shooting overall and 4-of-9 from 3-land in 40 minutes. He had seven assists, three rebounds and zero turnovers.
We know White can get hot from outside, but what really made this performance impressive was what he did inside the arc. The youngster consistently attacked the paint and finished through contact, making all four of his shots in the restricted area and 11-of-12 shots in the paint overall. He kept the Bulls in it in crunch time with several tough finishes, and it’s too bad he wasn’t rewarded with a victory.
Zach LaVine was on fire for most of the night as well, finishing with 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting. He too did a ton of damage inside the arc, shooting 10-of-13 on 2-pointers and 7-of-8 inside the paint.
However, after making a lot of good decisions in the win over the Blazers, LaVine forced up some bad shots down the stretch of this one. With the Bulls down one with around a minute to go, he jacked up an early-clock 3-pointer that missed, and then Hield poured in his 4-point play moments later. LaVine shot 1-of-5 from 3 in the fourth quarter and 3-of-11 from deep for the game, spoiling what had been a strong game for him outside of some sloppiness with the ball (six turnovers).
The Bulls lost this game despite shooting 52.7% from the field. The Kings shot 51.6% themselves and matched Chicago with 62 points in the paint. The home team had seven players in double figures, led by Richaun Holmes’ 24/8/5, Marvin Bagley III’s 21 and 12 and Harrison Barnes’ 20. The Bulls’ pick-and-roll defense struggled, and the broadcast made it a point to single out Wendell Carter Jr. dropping too far in his coverages.
Interestingly enough, Billy Donovan pinned the blame on the perimeter defense:
Asked about pick-and-roll defense, Billy Donovan put onus on #Bulls' perimeter defense to improve at point of attack, not the setup of the scheme.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 7, 2021
Donovan: "I thought the guys with the ball were coming downhill way too easily to making it kind of a two-on-one situation."
While Carter does sometimes drop too far, Donovan is correct that the defense at the point of attack needs to be more disruptive. The Bulls did this well at times against the Blazers, which helped them make their comeback, but there wasn’t enough resistance in this game.
Carter actually had a pretty nice game, racking up 11 points, 17 rebounds (six offensive) and four assists. He would have had more assists if the Bulls shot better in the first quarter, when they were using him effectively in the middle of the floor to find wide-open shooters.
The Bulls also got another solid performance from the bench, with Garrett Temple, Denzel Valentine, Thaddeus Young and Daniel Gafford combining for 33 points on 13-of-23 shooting. Temple and Young had some turnover issues (seven combined), but Temple and Valentine combined for nine assists. Temple started in the second half for Patrick Williams, who was in concussion protocol before returning to the game.
Finally, this was a night to forget for Otto Porter Jr., who shot just 1-of-8 and was a team-worst minus-14 in 26 minutes. He missed some great looks early and then just never found a rhythm, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the fifth game in seven nights hit him hard.
This game definitely goes down as a missed opportunity for the Bulls given the scoring exploits of the backcourt and the injury to Fox. The Kings had been struggling coming into this game, though that was partially due to Haliburton’s recent absence. His return to the lineup clearly galvanized Sacramento.
The Bulls now have games this weekend against the two Los Angeles teams, starting with a date with the defending champion Lakers on Friday night. It will be the second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers, so we’ll see if there’s any load management.