Zach LaVine and the Bulls finally got some national TV shine against the Sixers on Friday night. While they battled hard despite a poor shooting performance, Joel Embiid was just way too much all night long in a 112-105 defeat.
Embiid crushed the Bulls from the opening tip and wound up going for a career-high 50 points on 17-of-26 shooting overall and 15-of-17 from the charity stripe. The big man added 17 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals. He was a plus-22 in a game that stayed competitive throughout, with the Bulls holding strong despite the Sixers star’s dominance. The absences of Ben Simmons and Shake Milton left the Sixers a bit thin, and the Bulls’ bench helped keep them in the game against a Sixers reserve unit that really struggled. Every time it looked like Philly was about to pull away, and that happened on multiple occasions, Chicago made a surge to get back in it.
It was a two-point game after LaVine’s clutch 3-pointer with just over two minutes to play, and the Bulls had a chance to tie or take the lead after Embiid missed a jumper. Unfortunately, LaVine turned the ball over and a bang-bang call went against Thaddeus Young in favor of Embiid, with Billy Donovan deciding against a challenge because he didn’t get a great look at it and he wanted to save his timeouts. After the Sixers big man knocked down two free throws, Garrett Temple and LaVine missed shots, which was followed by an absolutely filthy Embiid step-back jumper to stick a dagger in the heart of Chicago.
You have to tip your cap to Embiid for this MVP performance, but it still feels like a missed opportunity for the Bulls given how poorly most of the rest of the Sixers (outside of Tobias Harris) played offensively. Chicago shot just 42.1% from the field and 7-of-32 from 3-point range, with LaVine shooting an uncharacteristic 9-of-28 overall and 2-of-10 from 3-land. LaVine stayed aggressive despite his poor shooting and went 10-of-10 from the free-throw line to finish with a team-high 30 points, but he still missed a handful of shots, including right around the basket, that he usually makes.
Nobody else really stood out for the Bulls, though Wendell Carter Jr. made his mark on the game early by going right at Embiid. Carter scored 10 of his 15 points in the first quarter, but unfortunately he was mostly quiet the rest of the night as the Bulls got smoked by Embiid and on the glass in general. Philly won the rebounding battle 53-42 and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, leading to 23 second chance points.
The Bulls were able to stay in the game thanks to their 35-16 bench advantage. Young put forth another admirable effort with 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes, but he wasn’t able to slow down Embiid and didn’t get the benefit of the doubt on foul calls in the fourth quarter. Tomas Satoransky and Ryan Arcidiacono both had 10 points, with Arch providing a massive spark early in the fourth quarter. He even gave the Bulls a brief lead thanks to his hustle, forcing a steal after a Denzel Valentine triple and then finishing an and-1 to make it 89-87 Bulls with 8:31 to play. Sadly, the Bulls wouldn’t lead again after Embiid’s jumper just about a minute later.
Chicago deserves credit for playing hard and staying competitive despite the struggles on offense. There were a few times, including in the first quarter, where it looked like Philly was going to turn the game into a laugher. But the Bulls battled hard, putting forth an admirable effort against one of the best teams in the East. Yes, the Sixers felt Simmons’ absence, as they were atrocious when Embiid was on the bench, but it was still a valiant performance for Chicago.
On the injury front, Coby White suffered a knee contusion in the first half, but he returned to the game to star the second half. While he didn’t seem to suffer any noticeable ill-effects, it wasn’t a great game for the young point guard. White had nine points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting 4-of-11 from the field and 1-of-5 on 3-pointers.
The Bulls will be right back in action on Saturday with a home game against the struggling Kings.