Now that was a whirlwind of a basketball game. “A tale of two halves” has never been a more appropriate cliche.
At the end of Sunday’s half, the Grizzlies led the Bulls by 15 points. They were 13-of-25 of threes and had only turned the ball over twice. Meanwhile, the Bulls were shooting 44.4 percent from the field and had only five made threes.
It felt pretty much over at that point. I had my postgame lede all written up about how math had defeated the Bulls yet again.
“They got it really going from three. I thought at a certain point it deflated us a little bit,” Donovan admitted. “And then they did a really, really good job, the guys, just regrouping.”
And then, the Bulls turned into a completely different team, forcing 20 of the Grizzlies 22 turnovers in the second half alone. They got a steal on what felt like every possession, each of which led to a runout layup, dunk or and-1 finish.
After scoring 75 points in the second half and overcoming a 23-point deficit, the Bulls not only clawed their way back, but blew out the second-place Grizzlies 128-107, a 44-point swing in the final 24 minutes.
In doing so, the Bulls tied a franchise record with only three turnovers, two of which came in the final minute of garbage time.
Zach LaVine led the way with 36 points on 13-of-19 shooting, with three threes, three rebounds and nine assists. DeMar DeRozan also eclipsed 30, with 31 points on 11-of-26 shooting, five rebounds and seven assists.
Defense turning into transition offense
31 transition points for the Bulls. Zero for the Grizzlies.
That’s as much of a mathematical anomaly as the Clippers shooting 20-of-35 pre-garbage time threes on the Bulls. It’s unheard of. It’s overwhelming. And it’s hard to win a game when you’re facing that kind of uphill battle.
Credit to the Bulls defense, who stayed the course after the Grizzlies first half barrage, and generated turnover after turnover in the second half to help them get out in transition.
“The biggest thing for us, we talked about this because it was really a problem for us in the first half, our hand activity was really poor,” Donovan said. “And that second unit came in and created some deflections.”
“Morant’s tough because he’s so athletic and he gets in the air, and now all of the sudden, he starts throwing the ball to open players when you’re helps kind of covering the rim,” Donovan said. “When you don’t have active hands and high hands, it’s not so much reaching and slapping, just active hands in pick-and-roll, active hands. I thought our hand activity was so much better in the second half than it was in the first.”
22 turnovers to three, 31 fast break points to zero. The Bulls defense could not have been better in the second half. Not only did it compensate for the lack of shooting (and then some), it created a math problem for the Grizzlies — not something we have seen much of this year.
Young guys growing together
Part of the reason the Bulls started to turn things around against the Grizzlies in the third quarter was because of their bench play. Coby White, who has been on a tear lately, scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and added four assists. He was a huge factor in the transition game, both throwing hit ahead passes and filling lanes and finishing.
Patrick Williams also played a role in the defense, blocking three shots and getting a steal. He had some clunky offensive moments, but still finished with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
“It can’t necessarily be about them missing or making shots as much as those guys can do things to impact the game,” Donovan said before the game. “And when they do that consistently it really helps our team. All three of them have continued to grow and get better.”
Coming into the game, lineups with White, Dosunmu and Williams alongside DeRozan were +7.0 in 375 possessions.
Swap LaVine in for DeRozan, they are -12.7 in 386 possessions.
They need a little direction and ball security, but something is starting to click with these three, which bodes well for the Bulls future outlook.
“I give Ayo and Patrick, you know they went from obviously starting earlier in the year, and then Alex being in the lineup and now Pat Bev, they’ve come off the bench and really accepted their role,” Donovan continued.
“I think they’ve flourished in their role and they’ve done everything they can to help us as a group.”
Play In Tournament Check in
The Raptors beat the Hornets and the Hawks beat the Mavericks, which means the Bulls remain one game behind both teams.
Tuesday’s game against the Hawks could tip the scales in the Play In Tournament standings.
As it stands, the Raptors have the tiebreaker against the Bulls, the Hawks have the tiebreaker against the Raptors and the Bulls have the tiebreaker against the Hawks.
Back home on Tuesday against the Hawks for what could be the most important remaining game for the Bulls Play In Tournament seeding. A win could put them in a position to climb up to the 9th seed. A loss would almost certainly lock in the 10th seed.