Down multiple rotation guys, the Chicago Bulls faced a tricky matchup on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was going to take a monster effort from everyone to pull out this win, especially after Monday’s victory over the Nuggets saw multiple guys play 35 or more minutes.
And while Chicago kept it competitive for the first half, with a sputtering offense and a lack of depth the wheels fell off in the third quarter. Cleveland outscored Chicago by seven in that period to blow the game wide open, and it ultimately finished as a 115-92 blowout loss.
This snaps the Bulls’ four-game winning streak.
With so many players out, the top-end starters remaining needed to have great games but none really did. Zach LaVine nearly had a double-double of 23 points and nine assists but struggled to shoot efficiently, going 9-of-21 from the field. Lonzo Ball had 19 points and seven assists while hitting four shots from deep, but he committed five turnovers.
And it was a nightmare night for Nikola Vucevic. Even though he scored 18 points and had a double-double with 12 rebounds, Vuc struggled shooting again by going 8-of-23 from the field.
As a team, Chicago’s shooting numbers weren’t great in all three facets. They shot just 41.7 percent from the field and a measly 26.9 from 3. They were also uncharacteristically missing free throws, missing six of their 21 attempts. Chicago also committed 17 turnovers.
Plus, as expected with the Cavaliers’ gigantic lineup, the Bulls lost the rebounding battle 42-37. With Cleveland starting three big men, Chicago had to be creative in how it would play defense. The Bulls had Ball guard Evan Mobley, with Derrick Jones taking Lauri Markkanen. Given the size mismatch, Mobley took full advantage, scoring eight points in the opening quarter.
LaVine was cooking in the first with 11 points as he tried to keep the Bulls on pace with Cleveland offensively even as they were turning the ball over at a high rate. The starters held the lead with 3:34 left in the quarter, but then the bench lineups came in and things really went south as Cleveland turned a one-point deficit into a five-point lead by the time the quarter ended.
That would be the last time in the game the Bulls had the lead. Cleveland picked up where it left off to start the second quarter on a 7-0 run in the opening minutes to push the lead to double digits. Near the end of the second quarter the Bulls sprung their own 7-0 run to make it only a five-point gap, but sadly, they weren’t able to make the game any closer before halftime as Cleveland immediately got a hook shot from Mobley, plus jumpers from Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen to make it a 52-43 Cavaliers lead in a half where it looked even worse.
The needed burst of energy never showed up in the second half. Things really began to get out of hand went Cleveland went on a 9-1 run to make it a 20-point game near the end of the fourth. Despite playing his top guys heavy minutes on Monday, Donovan still had his starters in until 5:45 left in the game.
For the rest of the Bulls: DJJ had 11 points including a couple of dunks. Ayo Dosunmu struggled in this one, scoring just five points and only taking two shot attempts while hampered with early foul trouble. Chicago’s reserves - bumped up in the rotation due to so many absences - didn’t score any points until 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile for Cleveland, Darius Garland led the way with 24 points. Mobley was a menace for Chicago’s offense all night with five blocks, plus he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Former Bull Markkanen had 14 points, but almost no other stats in his first official Bulls revenge game. In garbage time, Denzel Valentine shockingly put up a five trillion.
The Bulls now have a couple of days off before heading to Miami to play the Heat on Saturday. It is not clear yet how many of the absences in this game will sustain through the weekend.