In a battle of two All-Star snubs, Zach LaVine dropped 41 points to Bradley Beal's 30 but it was the Wizards that prevailed to send the Bulls to a 19-36 record heading into the All-Star break.
They have been some of the great moments in sports, the times we all wait for as we're remembering again with the All-Star weekend returning this weekend to Chicago, Michael and Dominique's legendary slam dunk faceoff. It's still discussed 30 years later. Or Russell and Chamberlain, Bird and Magic, Oscar and West, Kobe and LeBron. It's when the game within the game is at its best.
Michael and Isiah, Bird and Dr. J, Frazier and Monroe, Hakeem and David, Ewing and Mourning.
LaVine and Beal?
It's not quite there yet, but Zach LaVine with 41 points and Bradley Beal with 30 in Washington's 126-114 victory over the Bulls Tuesday showed why it's worth the price of admission when the teams are battling for ninth place.
It's ultimately about winning, but it's also about the show, and LaVine and Beal showed what being an NBA star is all about.
"I think Zach made his point tonight with 41 points," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "The effort he played with. He's a big shot maker. He understands the moment. He's a crunch time guy. (An All-Star is) a guy who you can rely on to bring the game home for you and I thought Zach tried to do that and I thought Beal did, too."
Zach LaVine had his fifth 40-point game of the season with 41 vs. Washington.
It wasn't a particularly good night for the Bulls, whose castle walls of defense were besieged by Beal the conquerer, among others. There was even the Red Sea drive when Davis Bertans late in the fourth quarter from the right wing saw Bulls players open up a lane Moses could have driven his people through. Bertans was looking to shoot, but when everyone got out of the way he trotted in for a slam dunk and the end of a brief Bulls fourth quarter comeback that shaved 15 points off a 21-point deficit.
"We didn't contain the driver very well for three quarters," said Boylen. "I thought the combination of our turnovers (22, 11 in the third quarter when the Bulls fell behind 94-73) and inability to keep the ball in front of us in a one on one situation hurt us. I didn't think we weren't trying. I didn't think that was the issue. We battled. We had some real good open looks in the fourth when it was six, eight; those go down it's probably a different story.
"I didn't think we played as well as we can play," said Boylen. "I didn't think we didn't play hard tonight."
Boylen has been fond of those double negatives lately, which perhaps is appropriate as the Bulls now heading into the All-Star break losing their sixth consecutive game and dropped to 19-36. Washington is just ahead in ninth at 19-33 as the Bulls are four and a half games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Chuck Swirsky with BullsTV recaps tonight's loss to the Washington Wizards
So perhaps the matchup wasn't the most appealing as former Wizard Tomas Satoransky had 19 points and eight assists, Coby White 14 points and seven assists and Thaddeus Young 10 points. Washington rookie Rui Hachimura had 20 points and the Wizards shot 54 percent overall, recorded 28 assists and 62 inside points in a wide open game that often resembled a summer beach game.
Except when Beal with those 30 points and nine assists and LaVine with his 41 points, eight rebounds and four assists and 19 fourth quarter points went at it in the sort of classic duel in the sun of western lore.
"I know Brad; he's an All Star player," said LaVine. "That competition you want to bring your A game because if you don't you're going to get toasted in that game. I always try to step up to the plate when you play against a dude of his caliber; it's going to be a battle. You just have to lock in; he's doing the same. When dudes are at this level they're going to get what they get when they put their minds to it. We just have to buckle in and compete; that's what it is at the end of the day."
Zach LaVine slams it home against Washington.
So it became a treat for the viewers, if not ultimately the Bulls, with LaVine trying to rally the Bulls back from their 18-point deficit to start the fourth quarter and Beal doing what he could to hold him off. Neither was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star this season, though both continue to play at an extraordinary high level. Is it their fault their teams are decimated by injury and for the Wizards also in rebuilding mode?
Isn't competing and performing at an extraordinary level when it's unexpected and often unappreciated perhaps more difficult?
And suddenly a Wizards rout — much like the last time the Bulls were in Washington and overcame an 18-point deficit to eventually win in overtime — became almost a deja vu all over again.
Give the Bulls that. They rarely give up in these sorts of games no matter how badly they are playing or what events are transpiring against them.
"I thought that second group in the fourth gave us a lift," said Boylen.
The Bulls got the deficit within 11 when the cavalry returned with LaVine leading the charge.
"I thought that was the chance to come back if I started rallying and put something together," said LaVine.
Tomas Satoransky flies in for a dunk against his former team.
LaVine made a pull up three and suddenly the Washington impasse looked like the Senate in session; nothing was being accomplished locally. It was 103-95 with 7:16 left and Washington was paralyzed. Piling up turnovers like they were a bakery at dawn, the Wizards committed their sixth turnover of the quarter. Satoransky seems especially motivated against his former team, earlier in a 69-62 Wizards first half with a driving power dunk with emphasis. But at that pivotal point, Satoransky missed two straight shots, the second a wide open corner three as the Wizards idea of closing on shooters resembles bidding adieu to an ocean liner.
"I was frustrated by that because it was an easy shot and I felt good in the game and if you have the shot you can change the momentum," Satoransky agreed. "Unfortunately, it didn't go in."
But the Bulls broke down on defense again, losing a pair of defensive rebounds that led to a Beal tip in. It was Wizards by 10 with 5:29 left.
Out of a Bulls timeout it was LaVine with a pullup three. Then it was Beal with a two for response. Young matched a pair of Hachimura free throws with a driving score and then came that miracle parting of the Bulls shores. Still 11 down with 4:06 left. Don't tell Zach it's too late.
LaVine made a three, and then a drive. Beal answered. The Wizards inched up defensively on him. Zach stepped way back and made yet another three and home fans murmured more with disbelief than fear of defeat. Finally Ish Smith added a three with 100 seconds left and there just wasn't enough time even as Zach went past 40 points with yet another three, even farther out, higher and longer and just as sure.
LaVine now heads for the All-Star weekend three point contest Saturday. Having made eight of 11 threes Tuesday with defenders waving and running at him, you'd think he's probably ready.
"I'm looking forward to it," said LaVine, who was asked about being known as an All-Star dunker. "If people think I'm (just) a high flier they're just a casual NBA fan; check their phones. It's (shooting contest) something I haven't done before. It's going to be fun and I think I have a shot to win."
It doesn't look promising, but the Bulls still do have a shot. Geography helps. Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are expected to return from injuries in a few weeks. There are 27 games remaining. It just takes one streak, as they've mentioned for some four months.
"Make sure everybody's mind is at the right spot," said LaVine about the rest of the story. "We're not on vacation yet. We still have to try to (get in the) hunt and make a goal for ourselves and go there out and play each game. I know I'll be ready and I'll bring it and I hope everybody else will, too."