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Late game strategy and Zach LaVine fitting into the new Chicago Bulls team concepts

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 11, 2024

After nearly letting go of the rope, the Chicago Bulls hung on to take down the Houston Rockets in a 124-119 overtime win on Wednesday night. The Bulls have now won three straight games eight of their last 12. They’re locked into the ninth seed, four games behind the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic.

Here are my takeaways from the game …

Late game strategy

For the second straight game, the Bulls struggled to close out with a big lead, before taking care of business in overtime.

Up 112-104 with 4:15 to go in regulation, the Bulls went scoreless the rest of the way, and failed to tap into the offensive flow they had for the rest of the game.

Similar to the Charlotte Hornets matchup on Monday, DeMar DeRozan had opportunities to close out the game down the stretch, but wasn’t able to get to his spots.

“Watching them on film, they’ve got a real history of what I would say just running and trapping the ball,” Billy Donovan explained. “Whoever’s got it, I just was concerned about running actions and getting too many people in too tight of a space and their being trapped and not being able to find somebody.”

“So I kind of created the space that way on purpose, just because they had shown that quite a bit,” he continued. “And I just wanted to make sure if it was DeMar, Zach or Coby, either one of them had the ball and they were trapped, they had to have some outlets.”

During those final minutes of regulation, the Bulls went 0-for-5 and turned the ball over three times.

White, who led the team with 30 points on 9-0f-17 shooting, 6-of-11 threes and 6-of-7 free throws with eight assists, only got one shot during the final 4:15, but strongly rejected the notion that he was uninvolved in the offense.

“They started keying in on me and (I was) making the right plays,” he said. “I don’t feel like they wasn’t looking for me. I felt like I was still involved…And so it’s not about me, it’s about us. It’s about the team and it’s about winning games. Trust me, my teammates, if they see me open they gonna find me. If they see me open, they gonna find me.”

He’s absolutely right.

The movement-oriented version of basketball the Bulls have been playing of late is what they should strive for, but in late-game scenarios, every single NBA team puts the ball in the hands of their best shot-creator to get them the best look possible.

Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Make or miss league. But that’s the correct process, and DeRozan, who is fifth in the league in clutch scoring on 55 percent shooting, has earned the right to be the one with the ball in his hands.

Zach LaVine fitting in

In his third game back from injury, Zach LaVine had his best showing, with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, 4-of-8 on threes, and 5-of-6 at the line, with 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block.

“Just aggressive, decisive,” White said of LaVine’s play. “Making the right play off his aggressiveness, not necessarily looking to pass every time, but just getting downhill, saying I’m gonna get to the cup, and then make the read. So when he’s aggressive first that’s how we want him to be.”

LaVine wasn’t forcing up shots, nor was he passing out of opportunities. He took his open threes and defended. He was focused on getting downhill and to the rim, but wasn’t tunnel vision or hijacking plays.

“Going out there, giving guys a little a little boost hopefully defensively,” LaVine assessed his performance.”Offensively, obviously having that side of the floor being a weapon people have to worry about. If I’m getting downhill, if I can get open shots. Spacing the floor, even getting assists by just getting downhill, creating some chaos in the paint. Just try to play the way that they’ve been playing last month.”

LaVine was responsible for the three Bulls turnovers in the last stretch of regulation as he started to do a bit too much. But he reigned in back in during overtime and delivered the final blow.

After the Bulls went down five during the first 2:50 of overtime, LaVine scored on an and-one layup to cut the lead down to two, then walked into a pull-up transition three to give the Bulls the lead. They never looked back.

“Big time players make big time plays,” White said.

The frustration with LaVine’s poor play prior to his injury boiled over into something ugly and unfair. But he’s beginning to remind viewers of his talent level.

It’s only been three games since he returned, and the toothpaste is already out of the tube when it comes to the trade saga, but LaVine deserves credit for the way he is fitting into the team concepts.

Up next: Be sure to tune into the extended halftime ceremonies for Friday’s inaugural Ring of Honor game against the Golden State Warriors.

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