It’s hard to state that a mid-November game was a must win, but it’s hard to ignore that things are beginning to unravel.
After losing to the Magic 108-107 on the back of a Jalen Suggs game-winning three-pointer, the Bulls fall to 6-10 on the year. They have dropped four-in-a-row and six-of-seven.
Despite another miserable start to the game, the Bulls had their chance. They fought back from down 19 to take a four point lead with 26.5 seconds remaining. From there, they fouled Jalen Suggs to put him at the line, where he cut the lead to two. Nikola Vucevic then missed two free throws that could have sealed the game, before Suggs hit the winner.
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Another embarrassing start
This was another horribly embarrassing start to the game. Despite Billy Donovan’s pre-game call out, the Bulls were down 37-24 after one, getting utterly outplayed by Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr.
Following the game, DeMar DeRozan addressed Donovan’s comments, claiming his coach said the right things.
DeRozan’s leadership and zen mentality has been even more impressive and refreshing than his mid-range heroics. If there’s hope the Bulls can right the ship, it’s because of him.
DeMar DeRozan hero mode
40-plus point games from DeRozan don’t get old.
Down and out halfway through the third, DeRozan took the game into his own hands, scoring 26 points in the second half.
He totaled 41 points on an uber-efficient 16-of-29 shooting and dragged the Bulls back into the game after going down by as many as 19 in the third quarter.
The Bulls ended up doing exactly what Donovan has been trying to avoid this season — DeRozan hero mode.
“It probably wasn’t ideal. Some of the things we’ve tried to do movement wise, I thought were good,” Donovan said. “Like, we got a couple really good actions on some of it. I thought some of the entry level passes, when we did throw it to him, we didn’t create the next action, we watched him. Which is I dont think is helpful to him and helpful to our team. It becomes too easy to guard.”
But obviously, coming down the stretch, they’re going to Wagner, we’re going to DeMar. That’s going to happen down the stretch.”
While it made sense in the context of this game, it does start to raise a flag about whether the Bulls will bail on their dreams of playing faster and with more movement, in favor of more of the DeRozan show.
Zach LaVine’s rough night
Zach LaVine had perhaps his worst game ever, scoring 4 points on 1-for-14 shooting. He got pulled with 3:43 left in the fourth quarter. Whatever his shooting numbers were, it takes a lot of bravery for a (players’) coach to pull his newly minted max player out of a crunch time game.
“He had a tough night shooting, and I thought that group there, I thought that group really fought their way back into the game,” Donovan said.
“To me, I was trying to do what was best for our team in that moment.” he continued.
He wasn’t wrong. As tough a decision as it must have been, this was an adjustment he needed to make.
The Bulls were down 76-60 with 6:00 to go in the third when LaVine went to the bench. By the time he came back in with 8:50 in the fourth, the Bulls had cut the lead to four, trailing 92-88.
From there, LaVine missed a two-point jumper, a three-point step back and turned the ball over.
LaVine was predictably unhappy with the decision.
“That’s Billy’s decision,” LaVine said after the game. “He’s gotta lay with it. Do I agree with it? No.”
“You play a guy like me down the stretch. That’s what I do.”
LaVine was hot after the game. He’ll have a chance to cool down but at the end of the day, he needs to play better. This benching didn’t feel like a statement from the coach, more that he needed to do what he needed to do to put his team in the best position to win.
The Bulls next seven games are going to be hellish.
They’re back at the United Center vs. Boston (12-3) on Monday before embarking on a six-game road trip. They kick things off in Milwaukee (11-4), before heading to Oklahoma City (7-9), Utah (11-6), Phoenix (9-6), Golden State (6-9) and Sacramento (8-6).
The Bulls are staring down a dark path. They need to do something to change course before it gets too late.