Banged-up Bulls fall to Pelicans on Thursday Night
"We’re beat up. It’s hard for us to stay in some games right now." - Zach LaVine
Despite an entertaining fourth-quarter scoring run courtesy of Bulls two-way player Adam Mokoka, the Bulls were unable to keep up with the Pelicans for the majority of Thursday night.
So how about those last four minutes Thursday even though the Bulls ended up losing 125-119 to the New Orleans Pelicans?
"I thought we weren't not trying; I thought they were better than us offensively," admitted Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "Our second unit came in at the end there and played hard and played the right way and I thought made some real solid, good plays."
Especially in a pretty remarkable four minutes in which Bulls two-way player Adam Mokoka set some kind of NBA record for most points scored in the shortest time and the Bulls cut a 23-point Pelicans lead with about four minutes remaining to four with 6.1 seconds left on a Ryan Arcidiacono three. An excited Boylen was then in the process of calling a timeout to perhaps pull off one of the miracle wins of all time when Jaxson Hayes missed both free throws leading by four with 4.7 seconds left. But Nicolo Melli tipped in the second miss for the final margin as Boylen sagged back to his seat.
Oh, right. Those first 44 minutes.
"If you guys want to call it that," LaVine shrugged when asked by a reporter about the impressive comeback.
See, the media isn't negative.
"The game was over by then in my book," said LaVine, who led the Bulls with 22 points. "I don't know what we were cheering for. I'm happy for Adam, but that game was over. We lost; got our (butts) whipped. They were just taking us apart. They were playing harder than us. They were running us. There were a couple of plays I laid it in and they outletted it to half court and already were laying it in on the other end. They play extremely fast; they took advantage of our matchups.
"I think it's the third straight game the starters weren't able to finish the game," LaVine pointed out. "It sucks not being able to play. I keep saying it's not like a team is going to feel sorry for us. You saw tonight. If they would have kept their first unit in there and we would not have had Adam go crazy and put on a T-Mac in the last five minutes (13 Tracy McGrady points in 33 seconds to win a game in 2004), it would have been a blowout. We've got to come in and be ready. We've got to do better."
So much for the Mokoka feel good five, scoring his first NBA basket—15 points in five minutes playing—with his mother having flown in Thursday from France to see him play in the NBA for the first time.
"That was super cool," said Mokoka. "I am glad the fans were happy for me. To me it is a blessing. My mother just got here today. To score in front of her to play against this team and make my first (NBA) bucket in front of my mother is a blessing. Coby (White) told me shoot your shot. I just shot my shot and it went in, so I was happy."
Mokoka, a 6-5 defensive oriented shooting guard, primarily has played for the Windy City Bulls this season, averaging 9.4 points. Though LaVine remarked that Frenchman has a classic shooting stroke that LaVine admires.
Which means something as the Bulls leading scorer prepares for the All-Star weekend three-point shooting contest.
But with the Bulls' record dropping to 19-34 with a fourth straight loss and two road games left before All-Star break, it's a Bulls team that could use a shot of some sort. That's because Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford were out with minor injuries, joining Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. recovering from various maladies.
The Bulls weren't checking the stands for players. Yet.
The deep bench irregulars played well in addition to Mokoka's record run. Ryan Arcidiacono took yet some more charges and now ranks fifth in the league in that bruise category. Arcidiacono had 13 points and made three of four three pointers. He is eight of 15 on threes the last three games. Shaquille Harrison had 11 points on an array of twisting driving scores and Chandler Hutchison continued his forceful play with 16 points and a team high eight rebounds. Hutchison is averaging 15.5 points the last four games with 17 free throw attempts the last two games. Coby White added 14 points and Thaddeus Young 11.
But the young Pelicans led by phenom Zion Williamson with 21 points and J.J. Redick with 18 dominated the first 44 minutes with a class in basketball for this era, running out for 20 fast break points, putting up 38 assists and making 16 threes, 12 in the first half when New Orleans scored 72 points and led by 10. With a 31-19 third quarter blitz, the Pelicans gobbled up the Bulls like a pelican swopping down on a defenseless school of herring.
"I didn't like the 72 points in the first half," Boylen agreed. "We had a hard time getting going in the third and obviously that was the difference in the game.
"I try to keep the positive things and what we have done in the right perspective," said Boylen. "We had won three of four at home. We're 6-2 on the second night of back to backs. We've got an injured, banged up young team that battles and fights and competes. Do we have off nights? Moments we don't play well? Of course; every team does. I am not deterred. We're searching for that maybe second, third scorer. It's difficult. The only way you survive is evaluate how you play and fix what you can work at. There's no secret sauce to it, no secret remedy."
Though it will help when the Bulls have more of their regulars.
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson said before the game Markkanen, Carter and Porter should be able to return later this month. The Bulls play in Philadelphia Sunday and Washington Tuesday before the All-Star weekend in Chicago. They return to host Charlotte Feb. 20 in the United Center.
And despite the current morass, the Orlando Magic suddenly find themselves in their own sinkhole, falling eight games under .500 and just three and a half games ahead of the Bulls for eighth place. The Bulls are quietly looking at a last 20 games with reinforcements, a stretch that includes a pair of games with the Magic. Though, as a frustrated LaVine noted, things weren't going great before everyone was injured. The hope is they've learned lessons from that shaky start.
"At the beginning of the year we lost games and we had everybody," said LaVine. "We're beat up. It's hard for us to stay in some games right now. You get frustrated with it. You should be frustrated. If you're not frustrated that means you don't care. I hope everybody is frustrated."
Still, a lost season can be discovered relatively quickly in the NBA.
Though not the way the Bulls played Thursday in mostly trying to exchange baskets than prevent many. Of course, the team's two best defenders, Carter and Dunn, are out. The Bulls did force 21 turnovers for 27 points. But the Pelicans also beat the ball screen traps frequently for easy scores or open three pointers on a ball swing and sent Boylen into a few exasperated timeouts after full court drives through casual observers. New Orleans shot 56 percent overall, though 58 percent on free throws. Perhaps more fouling.
And then there was Zion, who started slowly with an apparent sprained toe and then scared everyone but the Bulls coaches when it appeared he might have to leave with an ankle sprain. Williamson shook it off after a scoreless first quarter with one shot.
The Bulls were able to wrestle the ball away from Williamson for five turnovers. But when he got inside position, he was impressive since the Bulls didn't have the defensive size with quickness that gives him some issues.
"He's explosive and big," LaVine noted. "Once he gets to a spot he can elevate over pretty much everybody. That's coming from a guy who knows how to jump. His strength is crazy for a 19-year-old. We did a good job at the beginning containing him, but he was effective. Once he gets to his spot it's pretty much over. He's not even 100 percent right now; you can tell. He's an extreme athlete."
Williamson had nine third quarter points spinning easily past what usually seems like unusually big men as the Pelicans glided away. And then early in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans took a 25-point lead with nine minutes left Zion had one of those lob dunk finishes that everyone came to see. Oooh, aaah.
All any team can do then is turn to their Mokoka. He provided some entertainment, if not actual hope. Still, the Bulls feel they have hope remaining with some healing.
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