There are hot shooting nights and there are HOT shooting nights. Zach LaVine fell into the latter category with his season-high 43 points en route to a Bulls 132-118 win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.
The Bulls are now 16-19 and are maintaining their hold on the 10th seed in the East.
It was a closer game than the final score would indicate. Technically, this would be considered a “clutch game” as the score was within five points in the final five minutes. But from the Pistons three-pointer that tied the game at 115 with 4:23 on, the Bulls closed the game on a 17-3 run, involving scoring from each of their three key players and solid ball movement throughout.
It was a bit hero-ballish, but LaVine was so electric all night, nothing else mattered.
“There’s nothing you can do but hope,” DeMar DeRozan said of his co-star when he has it going. “Hope he misses. It’s definitely a challenge. I’m pretty sure on the scouting report, if he makes it, shake his hand. If you’re one of the defenders, because there’s not much you can do with it.”
Perhaps most impressive was is rim finishing, which, after his 7-for-7 at the rim in Friday night, is at a blistering 78 percent at the rim during the month of December. Quietly, he’s up to 69 percent on the year, matching his previous career-high from last season.
“I’ve been for a while,” LaVine said. “Look at my last 15-10 games.”
LaVine’s atomic alley-oop to close the first quarter was the perfect exclamation point.
Though LaVine had his best game of the season and the Bulls slammed the door shut on a clutch game, it wasn’t all good.
Here are some other takeaways from the game.
Making life hard
As previously mentioned, there was no reason this game should have been as close as it was.
It’s pretty clear why that was the case.
The Bulls were so unbelievably lazy in their defense that they were giving up transition layups after made baskets.
This happened three times in a matter of two minutes during a stretch in the third quarter. Billy Donovan called two time outs to address the issue, just for it to happen again and again.
This is the kind of thing that is controllable, that the Bulls could easily eliminate and could have probably resulted in this game being put away in the third rather than turning into a tight game down the stretch.
Donovan has been on a roll winning challenges of late and he tipped his hand to reporters prior to Friday’s game of his strategy on when to challenge plays.
“I don’t know if there’s an exact science to it,” he said.
After winning a challenges that overturned a key charge against the Bucks and a
“The hard part, to be honest with you, is sometimes you’re using that call before the two minutes, and you use it and now you’ve got a situation where the ball goes off somebody out of bounds and you don’t have it to use it. So a lot of times you’re either doing it to save fouls or get fouls and/or take points off the board.”
Donovan strayed a bit from this general strategy and challenged an offensive foul called on DeRozan early in the fourth quarter. It seemed like a pretty clear offensive foul from my vantage point, but the idea was to save DeRozan a foul, give the Bulls a chance to extend their lead to ten and hopefully put the game away.
Coaching challenges are still a relatively young rule in the NBA and it’s interesting to see how and when coaches use the tool at their disposal.
Lonzo Ball update
The Lonzo Ball updates continue to come in slowly and without much in the way of substantive progress.
Prior to the game, Donovan let reporters know Ball is “actually jumping” while doing shooting drills and has been doing some “light jogging.”
“Regularly on the court shooting, which has been good,” Donovan said. “Actually jumping a little bit while he’s been shooting. He’s been doing some light jogging and I think working through some of that stuff. Like we last talked, it is progressing, it’s just really slow. But there have been some improvements and he’s actually doing more physically than the last time we spoke.”
It’s nice to hear Ball is #doingstuff but these updates are so depressing. He’s just starting to lightly jog? He’s just starting to jump while taking jump shots? Yikes.
Was hoping for some better news to close out 2022, but I guess we’ll head into 2023 still uncertain about Ball’s knee health.