After Bulls built a 22 point lead, the Grizzlies came back to within 1 with 4:27 left. Then Zach turned it on, with 7 points, and assisting the other 6, to secure the win for the Bulls.
Often fans and sometimes even the Bulls get too caught up in what—or who—Zach LaVine is not, namely Michael Jordan or Derrick Rose or even Chet Walker. Instead of appreciating who and what Zach LaVine is, namely one of the elite offensive players and clutch shooters in the NBA, the player who basically is saving this Bulls season with yet another combination CPR/Heimlich Wednesday in the Bulls 106-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Having watched—literally, the way Bulls stood around and let Jonas Valanciunas back down Wendell Carter Jr. with seemingly little but admiring applause — the depleted Grizzlies come back from a 22-point deficit to trail 88-87 with 4:27 left in the game, the Bulls turned their desperate eyes to Zach.
"Let's get it done," LaVine instructed wary and perhaps worried teammates in the timeout. "Coach drew a play up; I told him where I wanted it."
That was near mid court by the red tip of the angry Bull logo on the United Center floor. Zach's snarl was as menacing. Carter offered a brush screen that LaVine barely needed to turn right and gracefully arc a 27 footer that met mesh for a 91-87 Bulls lead. It would be the start of a magical two and a half minutes during which LaVine would score seven points and assist on the six others, threes by Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
And then it was 101-90 with 1:44 left and the game was safe, the Bulls first winning streak of the season as they inched up to 8-14. Memphis is 6-15.
LaVine hits 25 Points against the Grizzlies
"We gave up our lead again," noticed LaVine. "But just like we did in Sacramento, we made big plays down the stretch, kept our compose."
And realized just whom they had and whom they needed.
Zach isn't one of those historic Bulls legends, certainly not yet. He's not Kawhi or Giannis or LeBron, either. But he's special, and without LaVine the Bulls instead of starting to see some hope from their Eastern Conference depression might be working on their seventh straight loss and 10th in the last 11 to fade from view even before Christmas. But averaging more than 30 points the last two weeks, LaVine saved a sure loss in Charlotte with his 49 points and career winning three-point miracle, cashed in a pair of threes in the last six minutes Monday in Sacramento and a team high 10 fourth quarter points to avoid defeat when the Kings crashed a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to a basket. And Wednesday back home after the 1-2 trip, it was LaVine with 25 points on just 13 field goals with six rebounds and three assists.
He's 15th in the NBA in scoring despite averaging the fewest fields goal attempts per game of the top 15 scorers and with only two of those top 15 players averaging fewer minutes per game. LaVine is one of 10 players in the NBA averaging at least 22.5 points, four rebounds and four assists, with LaVine just fractionally below four assists. He's shooting almost 42 percent on threes and leads the Bulls by almost 10 points per game in scoring, is second in assists and leads among guards in rebounding. He never sits out games like some of the game's top stars, and he never walks away from a big moment.
"When it gets down to the nitty gritty, I've got to put my hard hat on and make some plays," said LaVine.
LaVine also is one of the more popular teammates and always is quick to spread credit.
"It's not just me," he added. "I made two clutch ones, threw one to KD and he made a big one. Lauri made a big one as well. I started it off and we closed it out. It's the way I see myself playing. I don't put all this hard work in to just be a regular dude. I expect myself to do this and even more and whatever I have to do to contribute to winning, whether that's 10 points or 40, I'm going to go out and do the best I can. I'm in good place now and I'm going to try to stay in it."
It hasn't been, as we know, such a great place for the Bulls this season. Though there has been more pulse lately. It can be faint at times in the fourth quarters, as it seemed again Wednesday. And it can make you feel like fainting. But the Bulls might finally be putting away the defibrillators.
There may be a beating heart there on its own after all.
Markkanen had 15 points with four of eight threes, and perhaps the Bulls could have recognized him more frequently when Markkanen made two threes in the first two minutes as the Bulls took a 13-2 lead and would be ahead 27-20 after one quarter.
Wendell Carter Jr. banged his way to 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, and Daniel Gafford off the bench also had four blocks. The reserves maintained their defensive identity with a fierce showing in the second quarter that kept the Bulls ahead 50-35 at halftime. The Grizzlies without star rookie Ja Morant, rookie Brandon Clarke, and most everyone else we saw wearing their uniform the last decade were led by Valanciunas with 32 points. Grayson Allen added 12 points, though no one boos him anymore for feeling sorry he's in Memphis.
Tomas Satoransky had 13 points and eight assists, including eight fourth quarter points as he finally seemed to realize not everyone wanted to shoot in the fourth quarter. It was Satoransky's sixth straight game scoring in double figures after having four such games in the first 16. Enough of being the polite guest.
"Obviously I am one of those guys who try to fit in, but not very aggressively," Satoransky admitted. "I try to read the situation, try to read my teammates. I was always one of those players who try to make them feel comfortable around me. There's also (been) recognition I have to be more aggressive, especially late in the game. I haven't been shooting it well, but it still opens up spacing when we don't have to just rely on Zach or Lauri."
Satoransky is a true pro who though three of 10 then began to drive and ended up making seven of nine free throws. Dunn added 10 points and made two of four threes and Denzel Valentine continued to produce in limited playing time off the bench with eight points in 15 minutes.
"Everyone was confident," insisted LaVine, which was a good thing because the arena murmur didn't suggest certainty. "We didn't have any doubts (about winning). That was a good thing because we haven't felt that energy. The vibe in the gym wasn't very high and I felt like it was a slow paced game. But when it came down to crunch time, we were ready to get it done; time to put it away and do our jobs."
Winnin' time; Zach time?
As LaVine often notes, regrettably, it hasn't been often for him with rebuilding Minnesota and Bulls teams. It's thus marked Zach by the uninitiated and generally unaware as a player with whom you cannot win. You know, like Michael Jordan.
No, Zach's no Michael. Never will be. There is no next, remember? But that was conventional wisdom about Jordan with the Bulls in the mid-1980s: He'll score a lot of points, and then you get swept, like his teams were in going 1-9 in his first three years in the playoffs. Of course, LaVine never will be the defensive player Jordan was. Jordan back then often was thought of as as a flashier version of Purvis Short and Mike Mitchell, players who might get you 50. And then plenty of time to watch Magic and Larry in May and June.
Then the Bulls added defensive stars and a sidekick who would go on to the Hall of Fame, and the individual brilliance morphed into legendary status. Probably even LaVine's greatest admirers aren't suggesting that. Though perhaps no player in NBA history seems to have his shots micromanaged by the public more than LaVine.
Heck, his shot selection many times would look like a trading video compared to James Harden. He'd be the cautious Steve Kerr or John Paxson compared with Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell. After watching Buddy Hield Monday shoot from Rancho Cordova, you understand why the Kings were trying to sign LaVine. But you often can't produce greatness without some risks and curious judgments. Daring ones will draw to inside straights.
LaVine is imperfect enough, occasionally doing some bird watching on back cuts and sometimes thinking the basketball is about five inches across instead of about 10 with some of the passes he tries to fit between forests of limbs.
But with another here-we-go-again Bulls fourth quarter with the whoever they were Grizzlies reducing a 14-point Bulls lead to one, the coach pacing, the fans sighing, Dashing Donut having endured defeat yet again, Zach said he's got this.
"Teams are going to make runs," acknowledged LaVine.
But every game?
"We didn't do a good job of keeping them down by 20," said LaVine. "At some point teams are going to give up at that point, but we gave them life again. You just know the moment. When opportunity knocks you have to open the door. You have to at least have the courage to step up to it and I'm not scared to take or miss any shot. I take that on myself and I expect myself to make those kinds of plays.
"I made plays before," added LaVine. "I made a lot of plays last year and even my first year here. So I don't know why they switched up (rotations earlier this season). But I'm going to continue to make the plays out there when my number is called. I just step up to the plate. I'm going to go down swinging. I'm not going to go down looking at three strikes. I understand the moment and I know you have to go out and make a play."
Zach perhaps isn't as great with his metaphors, but he's been busy lately trying to save a season.