With Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic out again against a healthy Sixers squad, there was little reason to expect a competitive game on Monday night at the United Center. This was the case for three quarters in a total snoozer, but then the Bulls made a big run to trim what was a 20-point deficit heading into the fourth to one with just over seven minutes to play. Philly’s starters stemmed the tide, though, closing strong to hand Chicago a 106-94 defeat.
This game kind of had the feel of the Bucks one (the Bucks obviously didn’t have their MVP candidate playing), where the opponent jumped out big early and then just kind of coasted the rest of the way without playing all that well. The Sixers did have spurts of beautiful offense in this game and wound up shooting over 53.3% from the field and 11-of-28 from 3, but they also were extremely careless with the ball and should have had more than the 18 turnovers they did rack up. Philly’s turnovers and Chicago’s effort on the offensive boards helped the home team get up 12 more shot attempts.
Joel Embiid also had a rare off night, scoring just 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting in 33 minutes, and there were times he just looked sluggish. Of course, he matched Ben Simmons’ game-high plus-29 mark, so it’s not like he was totally ineffective. The Sixers’ starting unit was dominant defensively, with Simmons hounding Coby White and Embiid anchoring the middle.
Unlike the Bucks game, the Bulls were actually able to make things really interesting with their late surge. Starting the fourth against an all-bench Sixers lineup that was absolutely putrid, Coby White and Denzel Valentine caught fire from deep, combining for five 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as part of a 24-5 run. Little-used Javonte Green even provided a spark with his energy on both ends of the floor, and Philly was unable to match it. Philly was totally out of sorts, which resulted in offense that went nowhere and wide-open 3 after wide-open 3 for Chicago.
But this just turned out to be an excellent #FakeRally. As it often does, the Denzel magic ran out, and the Bulls only managed seven points over the final seven minutes of the game. Simmons put the final nail in the coffin with a steal and slam off a bad Garrett Temple inbounds pass with about a minute to play.
White led the Bulls with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting and 5-of-10 from 3-land, with 15 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. So, there’s another parallel to the Bucks game.
Only four other Bulls scored in double figures (Thaddeus Young, Daniel Theis, Valentine, Tomas Satoransky) as they shot 41.4% as a team. They had 15 turnovers of their own as both teams spent chunks of this game just throwing/kicking the ball around. It really wasn’t pretty.
Lauri Markkanen had another woeful game, scoring just five points on 2-of-8 shooting and 1-of-6 from 3 in 17 minutes. He’s apparently still feeling the effects of his illness but is trying to play through it. Credit to him for gutting it out, but he’s not exactly helping.
LaVine is hoping to be back on Thursday (two days off!) against the Hornets after clearing the NBA’s health and safety protocols, but the season is on life support at this point. The Bulls are now four games behind the Wizards for 10th and a game behind the Raptors for 11th with seven to play after a fourth straight loss. It will be interesting to see how the team handles LaVine and Vucevic (an MRI on his hip showed nothing serious) to close out the season.