The Bulls played probably their best half of basketball to grab a 17 point lead at the break, but couldn't hold onto it in the second half as the Lakers stormed back to snatch the win. Once again this game showed that there's talent on this team, but left the players & Coach Boylen talking about the need to learn how to close out games.
This is a Bulls season that was expected to at least be somewhat lyrical. Perhaps not epic, but more creative and artistic than it has been in recent seasons. Could it inspire poetry?
How do the Bulls lose those? Let us count the ways. They lose them to depth and breath and height, like Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, surrendering a 13-point fourth quarter lead in a 118-112 collapse. They lose them to the ends of being and ideal grace, like giving up that 10-point fourth quarter lead to lose in the opening game in Charlotte. They lose them by sun and candle light, like yielding that 10-point fourth quarter lead to lose in New York, freely as they strive for right.
"Just finish games," commanded veteran Thaddeus Young. "I came in and talked to the guys and said at some point it has to hurt. When it starts to hurt too bad, then that's when we're going to win games.
"We are putting ourselves in position to win games," Young said. "Just keep going back to the drawing board and at some point it has to click. We're a talented team. We've proven that time and time again this season with being up on teams, eight points, 10 points 16 points and even 20 like tonight (19 early in the third and 18 with 4:06 left in the third quarter). And giving games away. We stopped playing defense, they started to score, our offense wasn't clicking and they made runs. We did have some positives from the game, but at the end of the day in the league there are no moral victories. It's hurting, but it has to hurt to a point where we say, ‘You know what, we're not taking a loss like this.' We all have to feel that until we walk out of this locker room and say, ‘You know what, we're are going to kick their (butts) tonight; plain and simple.'"
The Bulls for three poetic quarters shot the ball the best they had this season, were active in the lanes causing multiple turnovers for scores, witnessed a resurgence from rookie Coby White with 16 first half points and an emotional response to the enthusiastic crowd, battled the giants of Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard to almost a draw on the boards and appeared on the way to perhaps a season changing victory.
"I thought we had one of the better halves of the season," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
But it all disappeared in a withering Lakers 16-0 run to start the fourth quarter that not only cost the Bulls a 13-point lead in less than four minutes, but quickly extended to 29-4 and a double digit deficit. It was a turnaround of 30 points in less than 12 minutes, the Lakers taking a 109-97 lead with four minutes left in the game. And most of that was accomplished by the Lakers with Davis and LeBron James on the bench. The star pair returned midway through the fourth quarter once the Lakers had recaptured the lead and then threw some lob dunks as if the Bulls didn't feel badly enough.
"We've had high expectations and we still do," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls in an excellent all around game with 26 points, a team best seven assists, seven rebounds for second most and two steals. "It's getting to the point where we are getting frustrated with losses that should be wins. It's getting to a turning point where we have to start winning them. It's been our m.o the last couple of years. We haven't won games in the fourth quarter. We have to learn now to finish."
Or be finished almost before they are starting.
The Bulls dropped to 2-6 and play Wednesday in Atlanta. The Lakers closed out a three-game trip with their sixth straight win to go to 6-1. James was terrific with a triple double of 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, though Davis had just 15 points and eight through three quarters. Otto Porter Jr. had 18 for the Bulls, though both he and Lauri Markkanen were scoreless in the fourth quarter. Wendell Carter Jr. had his third consecutive double/double and fifth in the last six games with 11 points and 11 rebounds. White finished with 18 points.
The breakthrough for the Lakers was with 17 points from Quinn Cook and 15 from Kyle Kuzma off the bench as they along with Alex Caruso and Howard overwhelmed the Bulls reserves in those first four minutes of the fourth quarter that turned Chicago smiles to tears.
"I'm the head coach of the team and I'll take responsibility for the fourth quarter," said Boylen. "I've got to do a better job of getting our guys to understand winning basketball. They're a young group and that's what I've got to do."
There'll be considerable second guessing (much less if the Bulls had won) about Boylen letting the Bulls play through the 16-0 avalanche without a timeout to moderate the Lakers' momentum and riding with Chandler Hutchison in his first game this season after injury, White and Luke Kornet. Hutchison and White, especially, were involved in several misplays before LaVine came back in and quickly scored. Though the Lakers had effectively evened the game by then. Plus the Lakers did something the Bulls don't do enough, going repeatedly to Kuzma once he got hot to start the fourth quarter. Kuzma had 10 points in that four-minute stretch while Howard dominated with five rebounds, two dunks and a block on White before Carter got back in.
"I'm gonna develop this bench, I'm gonna develop this team," Boylen said. "I've got 15 guys to develop and I'm going to play them in those moments and they're going to learn how to play winning basketball. I've never yanked guys. I've never done that. I'm not doing that. We're going to develop the second group and have a bench here in Chicago and I'm going to keep coaching them.
"We've got to figure it out," Boylen added. "We've got to learn, we've got to settle down and I want to see somebody take control and take over the thing. That's where we've got to grow; I had four (timeouts). I could have used one and I didn't. It was on my heart, it was on my mind. Time outs got nothing to do with free throw line box out; time outs got nothing to do with moving it to the next guy."
Though it wasn't like the Lakers were playing Shaq, Kobe, Kareem and Magic. Or LeBron, AD and even Danny Green. Anyone able to identify Troy Daniels and Alex Caruso?
Yet, they helped spoil what looked like it was going to be a celebratory night in the United Center. The Bulls finally shot wonderfully, 50.6 percent overall and 43.8 percent on threes. They persevered against the Lakers giant size mismatch, even outrebounding the Lakers in the first half. The Bulls thwarted and frustrated Davis and cleverly choked the passing lanes for 11 steals, three by Kris Dunn. The Bulls had 26 fast break points. And when White sent the Lakers to a timeout with a three with 5:41 left in the second quarter, the Bulls were leading 52-40. White eagerly signaled to the crowd and the Bulls were rocking.
White with the steal and fast break
The Bulls seemed to have captured that elusive team harmony.
"It's about playing a certain type of basketball," said Young. "They haven't played that certain type of basketball here the last couple of years. Getting guys to understand we are not the team with several different superstars. We're a team that has to play team basketball, has to move the basketball, has to get ourselves into a good flow and be tough on the defensive end. We have to be that type of team, strong minded, strong willed, make sure we go out and take care of business."
The Bulls came out of the timeout moving the ball deftly and frequently for a Porter three that continued what became a 21-7 run that gave the Bulls a 65-46 lead just before halftime and 17-point margin at the half.
"We played a really good game," said LaVine. "This one hurts. We were beating them throughout, all the way up until the fourth quarter. We've shown we can play with these teams; we know we're talented. We've had 10, 12 16-point leads on a lot of teams, but then…."
The Bulls continued to dominate into the third quarter, the starters closing the second quarter strong and then sending that message to LeBron and Davis to start the third that they were here. Porter made a pair of jumpers, LaVine got a three-point play on a tough drive, Tomas Satoransky added a full court driving score and Markkanen made a long three. Team stuff. The Bulls led 85-67 with 4:48 left in the third quarter on a second Porter three of the quarter and another flash drive by LaVine. Dunn even added his first three pointer of the season. And Kornet made a closing three when the Lakers made a move to get within 10 late in the quarter. That made it 93-80 Bulls going to the fourth.
"Kornet hit a huge three at the end of the third," James noted. "Kind of took the momentum away because we were playing well. In the fourth quarter, those (bench) guys just turned it around and Kuz got in a rhythm."
And without rhyme or reason, it was difficult for the Bulls to even count the ways they lost this one.