Ryan Arcidiacono was told to go to Europe. And not necessarily for the famous architecture and the coq au vin. The spunky guard from Villanova’s NCAA title winning team wasn’t drafted by an NBA team. Too slow, too small, they told him. Not for you, kid. Try the continent. Arcidiacono almost did, signing with an Italian league team. But details changed. So he returned to those coach class airplane rides and budget hotels for two years in the NBA’s G-league. Arcidiacono refused to give in, and Saturday he helped the Bulls pull out a welcoming 97-85 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Which was vital because perhaps now more than ever the Bulls especially need guys who don’t give up.
“Arch is going to battle anyone who is in front of him,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “It doesn’t matter who it is. That’s what we love about him; and then to go out there and hit those (fourth quarter) shots when we really needed them and nobody else was hitting them.”
Those shots were a three and a smooth jumper early in the fourth quarter after the Hawks were clawing within 72-68. Arcidiacono’s three started an 8-2 run that gave the Bulls their first double digit lead of the game on the way to maintaining and eventually extending the lead.
Arcidiacono added a vital assist on a Justin Holiday three shortly thereafter when Atlanta got within two points. And then Jabari Parker made it easier with a pair of three pointers.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 27 points and 11 rebounds, though also nine turnovers as he was double and triple teamed and ruthlessly trapped all game as the Hawks identified him as the Bulls primary threat. They checked some box scores, too. Parker with a bounce back all around game had 18 points and eight rebounds with three of six threes. Wendell Carter Jr, playing in his hometown, had his first double/double with a career high 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Arcidiacono had a career high 13 points.
Arcidiacono closed the game playing the entire fourth quarter as Hoiberg also went with a rejuvenated Cristiano Felicio for the fourth quarter. Felicio had just two points, but eight rebounds and a team best plus-20 replacing Robin Lopez.
Led by Arcidiacono and with their own aggressive trap, the Bulls were the first team this season to thwart rookie Trae Young, who came into the game averaging 21.5 points and shooting 39 percent on threes. Much maligned for team defense, especially in Friday’s loss to the Hornets, the Bulls held Young to 13 points on three of 12 shooting and zero for six on threes.
“Just tried to make him take tough ones and get him to inside the paint and try to finish over our bigs,” said Arcidiacono. “I’m just trying to be aggressive. I know that I’m not a proven player in this league, but I know that I can shoot it. So I’m going to shoot it with confidence.”
Arcidiacono has been somewhat hesitant offensively despite a pure shooting stroke, apparently trying to quietly fit in and earn a role in the NBA. But this glut of injuries that has put this Bulls season in jeopardy also provides opportunity. Next man up, and all that. It’s not much a formula for sustained success. But it is an opportunity to see players like the 6-2 Arcidiacono who often are arbitrarily dismissed because they don’t measure up to the game’s physical requirements and analytics. Which, as we know, don’t measure that axiom about heart.
It’s something of a shorthand for competitive edge, which the Bulls desperately need now, and which can make a heck of a feel good story about someone like G-league veteran Arcidiacono.
The Bulls moved to 2-4 with a home game Monday against the Golden State Warriors.
But this was no time for looking ahead as much as appreciating not being bogged down by looking back. It had been a brutally poor defensive and overall effort on Friday night in the 29-point loss to Charlotte.
“They didn’t like how last night went,” noted Hoiberg. “They watched the film session. They were embarrassed and I could see it in their eyes that they were going to come out with a good effort. When the ball was not going in the hoop, we stuck around and stayed with it. It’s been a problem for us the first five games; it affected our defense. Tonight we stayed with it, did a good job with our schemes and I couldn’t be prouder of the way the guys came out and handled that after last night’s game, the type of effort on the defensive end, on the glass, made a lot of hustle plays. Everybody who stepped on the floor, I felt, made a contribution.”
Hoiberg contributed impressively, as well, with multiple adjustments and responses that helped lead to the win over an Atlanta team coming in with back to back wins with a 15-point victory margin.
The Bulls with that varied trap against Young stunted the Hawks offense that had been averaging more than 106 points per game. The defensive pressure thwarted Young, and then when the Hawks pressured LaVine, Hoiberg moved LaVine more toward the middle of the floor as the guard facilitator. That helped defeat the Hawks sideline pressure. LaVine did have those nine turnovers, and Hoiberg joked LaVine was so close to a triple double.
“But Zach, if we can draw two to the ball (with their trap) and make the play and spray out of it, and that’s what I felt Zach did a good job of as he was making the right play,” said Hoiberg. “He found Justin for a couple of those shots. Not only Zach, but I felt Jabari found Arch for a couple of shots as well. Zach stuck with it and made some really solid plays in the fourth quarter.”
Despite the pressure and attention LaVine received as the Bulls obvious main offensive threat, LaVine still nearly had his 30 points by getting to the free throw line 10 times. Two of the most important elements of being a star are performing despite not having a great game, which LaVine did with those 27 points, and being consistent, your team knowing every game no matter what the opposition does you are going to be producing. LaVine has been coming through on both.
“I feel comfortable that I will make the right decision and I trust my teammates,” said LaVine. “I feel like I am going to have to get used to that going forward.”
It also was a high level game for Parker, whom Hoiberg must have advised. Because Parker abandoned his fondness for over dribbling and forcing shots and moved the ball quickly. He was most effective passing and receiving with Arcidiacono and making clutch shots down the stretch, mostly squared up on passes instead of trying off balance, running shots late in the clock.
With Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis all out injured, Parker is a vital second scoring option. Hoiberg kept him coming off the bench, which was not fatal as the Bulls again were competitive in the first quarter, trailing just 25-22. But Parker played the entire fourth quarter and a starting level 34 minutes, third most on the team against the Hawks.
“Jabari missed some shots early,” noted Hoiberg about Parker starting zero for four. “He stuck with it as well and hit big ones. Our guys were very resilient tonight and found a way to battle when shots weren’t falling.”
Carter had his best quarter of the season in the first with eight points, twice finishing lobs from Cameron Payne, who was in foul trouble and had just two points. Again, it was difficult getting enough scoring from the starters with Chandler Hutchison scoring four points and missing inside. Hutchison is mesmerizing to watch in the open court with his long strides, but he seems to freeze when he gets to the basket. Though he did have an impressive plus-18 rating.
The teams traded multiple misses in an ugly second quarter in which the Hawks shot 17 percent, but still led 44-41 at halftime. Parker helped get the Bulls close with five straight points late on a sorting dribble drive and pass to LaVine for a three.
LaVine, even with defenders swarming all around him, stung the Hawks with 11 third quarter points and those spinning curls to the basket. Felicio still was reluctant to shoot, but did finish his one score on a quick inside pass from Arcidiacono. Parker and Arcidiacono closed the third quarter assisting one another for scores. That gave the Bulls a 67-63 lead after three.
Then it was the Bulls with the big shots to close, Parker with a pair of threes, LaVine passing to Arcidiacono who quickly passed to Holiday for a three, one of his three in the fourth, and LaVine with a tough, late fading jumper to close it out. The Bulls were seven of 10 on threes in the fourth quarter.
“(We were) upset with the effort that we gave last night,” said LaVine. "It felt good to bounce back and get a win. We played really good defense. We had a really good game plan from the coaches.”
And a nice little story of what you can achieve if you just don’t believe and accept others’ status for you. Perhaps it’s a message for the Bulls, too.