After trailing at half-time, the Bulls put together one of their most complete second halves of the season to grab the win over the Mavericks. OPJ had an impressive return from injury, and White led the Bulls in scoring but it was the defensive play of Adam Mokoka on Luka Doncic which was the spark for the Bulls second-half performance.
They're putting the band back together. Perhaps they'll begin to hit some high notes this time, like Monday when the Bulls gave the Dallas Mavericks something to think about with a 109-107 victory.
"We got the job done," said rookie Coby White, who led six Bulls in double figures with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. "Second half, we sparked up defensively and got a lot of stops and that led to easy offense for us. We got tired of losing those close games. We buckled down and got the win. A win is a win, so that's all that matters at the end of the day.
"I still believe we can make the playoffs," White added. "We're going to come this March and buckle down and try to get some wins and keep going hard and fighting; this team is never going to quit fighting. I'm looking at making the playoffs and me continuing to get better. Until we can't make it, we still believe and we're still fighting."
Ah, the optimism of youth. If only we all could carry that with us.
It was just one win, the second in the Bulls last 12 games and now 21-40, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and six games out of eighth. So the old head put it in perspective.
"We're not thinking about the playoffs right now," said Otto Porter Jr. "We're just trying to get guys back. When it gets down to it where we're going to need a couple games, then we'll get in that playoff mode."
Who knows in this season of a mission from management whether the Bulls will get there or even close. But even with Zach LaVine Monday missing his first game of the season with a mild quad strain, it appears like the backbone and nerve center of what the Bulls believed was a playoff band might just be making some sweet sounds soon.
LaVine isn't expected to be out long as the Bulls play in Minnesota Wednesday. Lauri Markkanen practiced with the Windy City Bulls and also could play this week to join Porter, who played his first game Monday in four months after a fractured foot and strummed some soothing string music.
"Otto was huge for us," said White. "Got to that shot as soon as he got in the game; we missed that a lot from him this year. We're glad to have him back."
Coming in late in the first quarter from the bench to join fellow reserve White in a bench group that outscored the starters, Porter closed the first quarter with a pair of jumpers on the way to 18 points in just 17 minutes, making seven of 11 shots.
"Pretty strong for a first game back in two months or whatever it was," acknowledged Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. "Skill/feel players don't usually jump into a game and do what he was able to do. Give him credit.
"Look, they played their game," Carlisle added. "They play a hard game. They play a combative game. We just didn't deal with it in the third quarter well at all."
Well, the Bulls did play like that. They haven't much lately lagging through all the injures with seven rotation players out and the Bulls on the defensive about their defensive play.
"We talked about it today that we were 12th in the last five games offensively, but we were in the bottom third defensively," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "That (had to) change. Those last three quarters, I thought, our defense was as good as it's been all year."
Mostly that second half, really, after the high scoring Mavericks led by MVP candidate Luka Doncic took apart the Bulls early, another poor start for the Bulls trailing 15-6 without LaVine and White coming off the bench, and behind 29-19 after one quarter. Doncic was a marvel with a first quarter of 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. He would finish with 23 points, just eight after halftime. Tim Hardaway Jr. led Dallas with 26 points. Denzel Valentine getting his first start of the season had a personal season high with 17 points. Thaddeus Young added 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Bulls grabbed a 36-34 second quarter lead when Doncic went out. Dallas, 37-25, decided to rest big man Kristaps Porzingis and its offense disappeared without Doncic. He returned with about eight minutes left in the half and led Dallas to a 58-48 halftime lead as the Mavs with the giant Boban Marjanovic were dominating the Bulls on the boards.
"Halftime we came in and said we were going to grit our teeth and get it done defensively," said White. "That's what we did and that's what happened."
What they did became one of the team's best quarters of the season, especially one of those usually troublesome thirds. Primarily with two-way G-league player Adam Mokoka the main defender and an effective trap and recover game, the Bulls were able to frustrate Doncic and limit the Mavericks.
Chuck talks with Adam Mokoka
"Felt good out there, back in the groove a little bit, back on the court," said Porter. "My energy was very high as I was very excited about it. Doing something you love is like giving candy to a baby; you're going to be happy. Definitely happy to get back out and play basketball, get back with my teammates and get the W. We were able to lock down defensively. Our defense on the ball was really good, our pick and roll defense was really good. Overall, our team had a lot of effort and played with a lot of energy."
The Bulls opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run, Boylen winning a challenge to turn an offensive foul into a three-point play, added another 9-0 run after Doncic squeezed loose for a basket and then later hit the Mavs with a 6-0 run with a couple of Ryan Arcidiacono scores. Plus, the Bulls were as engaged and enthusiastic as they've been in weeks. Arcidiacono pounded the floor in triumph after drawing his team most 19th charge, fourth most in the league. White flexed over Porter drawing a foul on a three-point shot and then struck a muscular pose as fellow rookie and locker mate Daniel Gafford finished a lob pass for a three-point play.
White flexes over Porter after an OPJ 3
"Otto came in and had big buckets," said Valentine. "Guys are getting opportunities to show what they can do. The last 21 games are going to be key taking advantage of these opportunities. We have a really good and talented team and that doesn't get seen sometimes. We've been right there (in a lot of the losses). So it's good to beat a good team like that. We're talented one through 15. Sometimes it gets overshadowed because we're losing and guys aren't getting their opportunities. But it was huge to see everybody contribute and play a part in the win."
Which began to look so certain late that fans began leaving early because the Bulls were far ahead and it appeared like the opponent would be the one giving in with the post game hugs.
Until what almost became one of the most unlikely losses ever.
The Bulls had the ball and an eight-point lead with 22.8 seconds left in the game after what seemed like Dallas' last gasp. Max Kleber threw the ball out of bounds for a turnover. It looked like Dallas might just let the Bulls dribble out. The Bulls called timeout.
And then Doncic's three pointer for the Dallas win came up just short.
Boylen called it "learning, young team moments."
It likely would have been called something else if the Bulls had given that one away.
"With our luck, he probably would have made that," laughed Valentine. "But as long as you win the game, that's what matters."
Satoransky was the inbounder. The play to White broke down. Instead of throwing toward the Bulls basket, Satoransky threw into the backcourt at the Dallas basket. Kleber intercepted in front of his basket and laid the ball in. Mokoka then took the ball out and made a lazy pass in that Delon Wright stole defending the inbounds pass. Three Bulls went into the lane as Wright faked a pass inside. Dorian Finney-Smith ran to the corner, got the pass and made a three. Suddenly it was 107-104 with 15.3 seconds left.
Young running to the corner to defend sagged under the weight of what seemed like the unimaginable.
Fans were returning to their seats.
You thought someone on the bench might hide under a seat.
The Bulls took their last timeout with 15.3 seconds left.
Dallas had to foul with one to give. Satoransky got the ball in to Young and he was fouled. Satoransky admitted he should have called timeout rather than make that backcourt heave pass earlier. Satoransky inbounded for a third time with 14.5 seconds left. Satoransly barely got the ball in to a leaping Young, who was fouled with 13 seconds left. Young made the second of two free throws for a 108-104 Bulls lead. Dallas called its last timeout.
Dallas advanced to its front court. Finney-Smith threw into Hardaway and the ball made its way back to Doncic. He dribbled left into the lane, drawing three defenders. He threw back to Finney-Smith on the right wing and he made another three: 108-107 Bulls with 4.9 seconds left. No timeouts left.
Young inbounded the ball to Wendell Carter Jr., who was fouled by Doncic as Carter attempted to pass back to Young. The officials reviewed the play as Carter's follow through on the pass knocked down Doncic. It could have been a flagrant foul call, but the officials ruled it just a common foul on Doncic as called.
With 2.6 seconds left in the game, Carter missed the first and made the second free throw for a 109-107 Bulls lead. Boylen admitted he considered telling Carter to miss the second after he missed the first because Dallas likely would be shooting a three, anyway.
"Entered my mind," said Boylen. "You set your defense or are you in scramble mode? You can argue it either way."
Finney-Smith ran the endline looking for Doncic.
Seriously, could they lose an eight-point lead in less than 20 seconds?
Finney-Smith threw to Doncic coming back to half court. Doncic caught the ball near midcourt near the left sideline in front of the scorer's table. He took two dribbles with Mokoka on him and pushed off Jordan/Bryon Russell-like. Doncic then stepped back just past half court and launched a high arcing three.
For the win?
"I had a nice view of it," said White, who was just behind Mokoka. White turned toward the basket as Doncic' shot floated high. "He put enough arc on it to go in," said White. "With Luka anything could be going it. He's making those shots easy in warmups. I did (think it was going in)."
Doncic held his head in his hands as the ball come up just short, hitting the left side of the rim.
"Luckily," smiled White, "It was short. We'll take it."
Perhaps they're starting to see the light.