The Bulls finally returned to the court after another lengthy layoff, and while they saw several more players and even head coach Billy Donovan enter health and safety protocols, they got back Zach LaVine for Sunday’s home game against the Pacers. It was great to have LaVine back out there, as he delivered a game-high 32 points in a 113-105 victory, with 12 points coming in the fourth quarter.
LaVine and the Bulls got off to a fast start, scoring 33 points on nearly 61% shooting in the opening quarter. The All-Star made his presence felt immediately with this thunderous poster dunk:
Nikola Vucevic also had it going early, and the fun continued in the second quarter as the Bulls broke the game open. They shot 12-of-18 from the field in the quarter and led by as many as 18 points before settling on a 63-48 halftime advantage. Chicago’s balanced scoring attack looked like it was going to be way too much for the Pacers to handle, and Indiana’s shooting struggles helped the home team build the lead.
The third quarter was ugly, though, with the Bulls cooling off a bit while also turning the ball over way too much. There were a lot of sloppy mistakes and poor decisions, and the Bulls were lucky the Pacers weren’t able to take more advantage outside of rookie Chris Duarte getting hot. It looked like Chicago was actually going to escape the third without giving up much ground when the lead got back up to 16 with 3:17 left in the quarter, but a Pacers surge made it 83-75 entering the final frame.
DeMar DeRozan went to work to start the fourth quarter, and then LaVine returned to the game and caught fire. It was 100-85 with 6:51 to play after a LaVine triple, but then Caris LeVert caught fire himself (16 of his 27 points came in the fourth) and helped the Pacers make one last push. Luckily, the Bulls kept scoring themselves to avoid things getting too hairy. Javonte Green scored six big points down the stretch, including two buckets off beautiful passes from Vooch.
Then after a LeVert triple made it 108-100 with 3:22 to play, LaVine delivered the finishing blows. He hit a tough bucket, made a big defensive stop on Myles Turner and then scored on a driving layup on three consecutive possessions to make it 112-100 with 2:32 to play. The end of the game featured some weirdness, including a pair of missed DeRozan free throws and a really bad Coby White turnover, but LeVert’s missed 3-pointer to try to make it a four-point game with about 17 seconds left was the Pacers’ last gasp.
The Bulls shot a scorching 56.6% from the field and 11-of-23 from 3-point range, with LaVine going 12-of-18 overall and 5-of-9 from 3. DeRozan was a tad off in this game and spent one good portion jawing at the refs, but he still managed a solid 24 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Vucevic had a stellar all-around game with 16 points (7-of-10 shooting), 15 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. He did an admirable job against Domantas Sabonis, who had 14/16/5 but shot just 5-of-17 from the field. Myles Turner had 19 points.
It was certainly good that the Bulls shot so well, because the Pacers wound up taking 18 more shot attempts thanks to 14 offensive rebounds and the Bulls’ 15 turnovers. The big Pacers dominated points in the paint (62-44), second chance points (13-6) and also fast-break points (22-7). But the Bulls’ shotmaking reigned supreme (they only had 17 assists on 43 baskets), and the Pacers shooting 8-of-30 from deep (plenty of wide-open misses) helped out. The visitors missed Malcolm Brogdon’s shooting and steady hand in this one.
With Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out, White got the start in the backcourt. Outside of a few nice finishes in the first half (including one really nice drive on Turner), White had a pretty rough night, only managing eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and 0-of-4 from 3-point land. He had a few ugly plays and was noticeably bad in the third quarter. There’s still just no consistency there from the young guard after his big game against the Rockets, though it’s somewhat understandable given his circumstances.
This game also saw the return of Ayo Dosunmu from protocols, and he had some nice moments in his 23 minutes. His floater game was on point offensively, but he also got called on in crunch time to guard LeVert on a few possessions, even helping force a turnover. It’s great to see him get those kinds of opportunities in key situations.
Matt Thomas, Tyler Cook and Troy Brown Jr. rounded out the Bulls’ rotation for this game with Alfonzo McKinnie also sidelined. Thomas hit one really impressive 3-pointer off the dribble and actually wound up a game-best plus-16 in his 19 minutes, even playing somewhat deep into the fourth quarter. Cook had a nice stint early in the fourth quarter, including an aggressive dunk as the roll man. Brown hit a 3-pointer and was fine.
All in all, while there were some rough stretches, this was still an impressive Bulls win after the long layoff. They controlled the game throughout and were never seriously threatened, even though things tightened up a bit in the second half. They were able to get some revenge for that beatdown in the first meeting this season and now sit at 20-10 on the season. A fun fact:
Bulls 113, Pacers 105— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 27, 2021
The Bulls are 10 games over .500 for first time since Jan. 7, 2016.
LaVine 32 pts, 5 assists
DeRozan 24 pts
Vucevic 16 pts, 15 rebs
The Bulls will now fly to Atlanta and be right back at it on Monday against a Hawks team currently decimated by COVID-19. Keep an eye on those injury reports.