The Bulls Wednesday almost blew a huge lead and a game to the league's worst team, a game the Bulls were desperate to win that many of their supporters hoped they'd lose despite the need for the Bulls best players to recover from their own recent despair.This has been a very confusing season.Advised as he began his post game remarks after the Bulls 119-110 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that Lauri Markkanen with 22 points and Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn with 21 points each scored at least 20 points in a game together for the first time, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg marveled at the Bulls ability for the first time since All-Star break to get a lead and force the opponent to call the first time out."How about that?" offered Hoiberg. "That's exciting."In this kind of season, you find your excitement wherever you can.You know, whatever floats your boat.That's what it, sadly, came to for the Bulls after they led by 21 points in the third quarter and by as much as 18 with a minute left in the third. But Dillon Brooks, among the many second round picks and undrafted players on the Memphis roster, blitzed the Bulls for 20 fourth quarter points that suddenly had this laugher of a game driving the Bulls to tears."What we did against Boston was terrible from head to toe, starting with me," said LaVine about the Monday spiritless loss that saw the Bulls trailing by 37 points at home. "This was a bounce back game."But the Bulls were just about to get bounced by a team working on a 14-game losing streak, the Grizzlies drawing within one point with 7:29 left in the game and three more times down the stretch of what became an urgent, if not aesthetically pleasing, game. The Bulls committed seven fourth quarter turnovers that accounted for 17 points, Memphis with 28 points off turnovers in the game with Dunn making six.
Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies
But then it was Dunn with 11 fourth quarter points and LaVine with five making multiple game saving plays in the last five minutes. Bobby Portis with 15 points and 10 rebounds and David Nwaba also were crucial in the fourth quarter while Justin Holiday added 14 points in 17 minutes back starting."I thought those three were really good, especially Lauri," said Hoiberg. "We put the ball in Kris' hands late, Zach as well, and (they) made plays. Kris brought us home with knocking down free throws when he got fouled. I thought Bobby played a really complete game. But if you look at our starters, Justin hit all four of his threes. To have that balanced scoring was a fun thing for our team."Though it didn't look like Hoiberg was laughing much during that fourth quarter near debacle. Hoiberg went back to his starters with Nwaba instead of Holiday after a brutal stretch for the reserves and 18-4 Memphis run to start the fourth quarter. That group did answer a question at least for one game about those three players most vital to the Bulls success.They played with desperation, not a familiar picture lately, fury and a hint of defiance instead of surrendering as they did to Boston among some others lately.
Ben McLemore #23 of the Memphis Grizzlies looses control of the ball under pressure from David Nwaba #11 of the Chicago Bulls
With plays like these:-- Nwaba wrestling away an offensive rebound on a Dunn miss from Brooks and passing underneath to Portis for a layup and 98-95 Bulls lead with 6:21 left;
-- Dunn blocking a shot that led to his drive and free throw for a 99-95 lead with 5:36 left. The threat seemed thwarted when Dunn stepped into the passing lane for a steal against Ben McLemore and breakaway dunk that not only gave the Bulls a 101-95 lead, but also didn't lead to a Dunn concussion after the dunk. When LaVine popped on top for a three with 4:09 left, the Bulls took a 106-97 lead. Over? Nothing is ever over with these Bulls. Because when the tough get going..."Got to stop giving up leads," said LaVine. "That's been the main thing of our season where we are leading or in the game and then get (behind). We've got to get better with that. You have to cut that heart out."-- After the Grizzlies scored eight straight points all by Brooks to get within 106-105 on a Brooks three with 2:55 left and some posing and skipping, Dunn drove and began to lose the ball. He picked it up and pushed it to Nwaba cutting baseline for a dunk and three-point play. That made it 109-105 Bulls with 2:37 left. But you don't dismiss these 18-46 Grizzlies. The Other Kobi, Simmons, made a floater for a three-point play and again a one-point Memphis deficit.
-- Dunn then took charge, driving in the lane and getting fouled, making a pair of free throws. Then after a Nwaba defensive rebound despite being boxed out, Dunn went around a Portis screen and all the way for the layup and 113-108 Bulls lead with 1:31 remaining in the game.Memphis had one more score with 57 seconds left to get within three points. Portis missed and the ball was batted high. Dunn came down with it and trying to dribble out ran over Kobi. It being Simmons, Dunn got the call and went to the free throw line and made both and then he and LaVine some more after a Dillon miss."I'm trying to do my job," said Dunn "You can't relax. Teams can come back in a blink of the eye. We knuckled down and got the stops when we needed it."
The Bulls raised their record to 22-42. That keeps them with the eighth poorest record in the league in the backward contest about odds for the draft lottery. The Bulls now are closer to ninth poorest record than seventh. It's a competition many are watching. Apparently, to some extent, the NBA as the Bulls were apparently gently asked by the NBA to again start playing Holiday and Robin Lopez, who had been out of the rotation since the All-Star break. Holiday had played once with LaVine sitting on a back to back as he will the rest of the season.There's been much discussion this season in the NBA about teams trying to lose for lottery odds, though the Bulls have been primarily playing their best players, Dunn, Markkanen and LaVine, and to close games as well. The Bulls apparently had notified the league about their intentions with the lineup to analyze role players. But the league invoked its new rule about resting players, which was added last summer because teams were sitting out stars in marquee games. The league recently decided it applied to all teams, meaning teams can sit one healthy player at home but none on the road. As a result, Hoiberg said both Holiday and Lopez would start Friday in Detroit."I don't know all the rules and loopholes," Holiday said before the game. "They said. 'Justin, you're playing today.' They told me it would be days I was gonna play. That's how it goes. As far as them speaking to the league, that's for them and I don't know anything about that.""Obviously I'm an NBA player, I want to play basketball," said Lopez. "So that's always going to be a part of the equation. I want to do the best I can with the situation I'm dealt. My teammates supported me when I'm on the floor, when I'm off the floor, and I want to be able to do the same for them."
Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies
The Bulls don't get the so called measuring stick games in this kind of rebuilding season. But Wednesday's game had a suggestion of it after the brutal Monday loss to Boston in which even the usually stoic Hoiberg said multiple times how the team seemed to quit on the game and themselves. It was worrisome not because the Bulls should beat Boston, one of the league's top teams. But none among Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen seemed interested in doing anything about it during that game.It was a concern to start as the Bulls again came out walking up the ball, not passing much. Since All-Star break and whether it is a reaction to the rotation, fatigue or ennui, the push from the backcourt has slowed. Rarely do they swing the ball for more than one pass aimed toward getting a better shot. There's a lot of strolling out of the backcourt.So a beaten down and beat up Memphis team started 5-0 and it was a here we go again. Though Holiday gave the Bulls some cause for celebration with three first quarter three pointers. Dunn made a couple of plays, and though the Bulls led 30-22 after one it seemed more that it was Memphis. The Bulls began to show a bit more life in the second quarter with Portis getting nine points and Markkanen seven. Defenses play up and run Markkanen off the three-point line often, but he showed continued aggression going to the basket with four dunks, hammering the ball down with passion. LaVine also began to penetrate and the Bulls led 64-51 at halftime."We forced 11 turnovers in the first half and I thought our hands were excellent," said Hoiberg. "Not so much in the second. It was kind of a reversal. They were turning us over in the second half."LaVine has been something of a puzzle at times. He plays without any hesitation from his knee surgery, but then he'll stand outside and shoot long threes. He returned to driving the ball and with a big 11-point third quarter from Markkanen, the Bulls seemed to blow apart the game with an 82-61 lead. Even as it got weeded down to 90-75 after three, the Bulls fate still seemed lush. It would change quickly."We haven't had a lead like that in a long time, but you've got to extend it," said Hoiberg. "You've got to keep playing, you've got to keep your pace, and you've got to keep doing the things that made you successful. I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit; second unit, unfortunately, didn't have it going tonight."The three did, and they looked like a Big Three again."Glad we were able to pick it up at the end," said Markkanen. "It's not just one guy. We have a lot of guys to make big plays down the stretch. I think that's good for the future."
Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls dunks the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies