Bulls coach Billy Donovan Saturday had a message for his fellow Eastern Conference coaches—cris de coeur for him— following the Bulls 122-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings as Zach LaVine piled up 38 more points.
It was, incidentally, the seventh time in the last eight games LaVine has scored at least 30 points, and consequential points with nine of his 11 in the fourth quarter during a two-minute stretch after the Kings cut a 12-point Bulls fourth quarter lead to a basket. It was LaVine's 15th game of at least 30 points, third most in the league and tied for first with the most games of at least 35 points. LaVine also contributed three steals, and now has eight in the last three games while shooting 52 percent on threes these last eight games, the Bulls now 13-16 and two games out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
"I think when you look at players that are All-Stars you are saying they are playing at a high level individually and they are also raising the level of the team," Donovan offered. "I think Zach has done that. I don't want to be disrespectful to other players or other teams, but I would be hard pressed to believe there's guys out there—and I'm not saying who is deserving and who is not deserving—but Zach LaVine is deserving of being an All-Star. He has played as well as anybody. I can't imagine there's been many guys that have played better than him. Now, have we won at the level to really help him? Probably not, probably not.
"He has played at an incredibly high level, efficiently, consistently, and I've loved being around him every single day," Donovan continued. "From my perspective it's hard pressed for me to see there's been many guys that have performed a whole lot better or better than he has. He certainly performed at the highest of levels this first half of the season in my opinion."
Zach LaVine dropped 38 points on 15-of-20 shooting in the Saturday night win vs. Sacramento.
Heard that Brad, Doc, Eric, Lloyd, Nate, Nick, and various Steves? Billy Donovan doesn't pander. Though he understands the vicissitudes of voting, which the conference coaches will do for the All-Star reserves before LaVine plays again Monday with the Bulls still scheduled in Houston. The reserves will be revealed on TNT Tuesday. Donovan is most about team success, as is LaVine. But Billy knows ball, and Zach's doing it this season for the Bulls like few have.
Once regarded as a scoring mercenary, LaVine not only has been among the league leaders at his position in rebounding and assists, but he's become a reliable defender averaging more than a steal per game who often defends the top opponent, again Saturday intermittently against De'Aaron Fox. LaVine's plus/minus Saturday led the team.
The sophistry regarding his defense to diminish his elite status in the game no longer needs to define LaVine.
"You get to a point where you're tired of losing," said LaVine, who has played at least at an All-Star offensive level the previous two seasons. "You have to figure out you can't just blame other people. You have to look at yourself and figure out what you have to do better to help. I'm with all that. I have all the capabilities to be a really good two-way player. I want to show that."
Zach LaVine defends Kings guard De'Aaron Fox.
It just wasn't LaVine, of course, against the Kings as the Bulls trudged home for the second of a back to back after, to paraphrase the comedian W.C. Fields with the sentiments he planned for his tombstone, "Better here than in Philadelphia."
Coby White had 19 points with five three pointers, he and Garrett Temple making vital threes in the fourth quarter after the Kings cut that Bulls lead to 101-99 with eight minutes remaining in the game.
"I've seen growth in these guys and I'm not saying they're all the way there or they figured it all out, but there is a different feeling on the bench," said Donovan. "It's almost like, ‘OK, they've made a run, there's eight minutes to go. Here's what we've got to do.' There was some good ball movement coming out of that timeout. They trapped Zach. Wendell (Carter Jr.) made a good pass, Garrett knocked down a big three. Then we found Coby and all of a sudden the lead went right back up to eight again. That's what you have to do. You have to be able to respond in those situations by getting stops and generating good shots. I thought we we did that."
Temple had 14 points and Patrick Williams thanks to a 50 footer to end the third quarter finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The laconic Williams coolly offered this trenchant observation: "It was a three. I've hit threes before. That's pretty much it."
Patrick Williams is greeted by smiling teammates after nailing a shot from well-beyond half-court to beat the third quarter buzzer.
LaVine did insist Williams is much more animated around teammates. We're taking that under advisement.
The reserves led by Thad Young's 18 points were predictably improvisational and imaginative, though with just barely an edge over the Kings' because of Tyrese Haliburton's 16 points. Marvin Bagley led three Kings with at least 20 points with 26.
But the Kings employed some curious head shaking strategies despite their size advantage over the Bulls—as most teams do these days—and 41-38 rebounding advantage and 20-4 on second chance points. The Kings kept choosing small lineups despite miserable eight of 29 three-point shooting, which enabled Young to repeatedly take advantage of mismatches for scores and playmaking in the second quarter when the Bulls stretched out to 68-58 halftime lead against the defensively deficient Kings.
The Bulls were able to maintain that through the third quarter, leading 87-73. And then 95-83 after Williams shotput score to close the third as Kings players were walking off while the Bulls inbounded with seven tenths of a second left after a Fox three-point play.
"They were playing a little smaller," Donovan observed. "We were a little bit bigger with Thad in there, trying to post. That fourth quarter we were up 12 at one point and they cut it to two. I give our guys credit for responding. I thought we responded from the last game."
Thad Young continues to be efficient, contributing 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
The Bulls maneuvered a 28-21 first quarter lead on a late run with Young and Satoransky becoming a reliable dance team. Former Bull Jabari Parker scored for the Kings to open the second quarter in his first appearance of the season with Harrison Barnes and Rashad Holmes out. Donovan said there neither Lauri Markkanen nor Otto Porter Jr. were close to a return. There has been no mention of Chandler Hutchison out for personal reasons.
The Bulls began to stretch out in the third quarter before that inevitable run, 16-6 Kings to open the fourth quarter. Donovan rushed back LaVine, who punched the time clock for another 36 minutes in his iron man season. LaVine is the only top scorer in the Eastern Conference to play every game.
"I think it shows a little bit of your demeanor and how much it means to you," said LaVine. "Selflessness; you don't care about yourself as much as if you can help the team. If I go out and help the team I'm going to do it. I play through a lot of injuries that aren't always on the report. You're never really playing at 100 percent. For me personally after I came off the ACL, I'd never been a guy who missed a lot of games. I feel like when you have that type of injury you get a rep of being injury prone. That's never been me. Each year I try to fight through some things and make sure I'm playing. I want to make myself available for my teammates every night."
LaVine nailed a clutch baseline jumper with 17.6 seconds remaining to ice the game.
Though first it was Temple with a three after sharp ball swing. And then after LaVine drove through Kings players like they were traffic cones, White got a fifth three on a similar glorious series of passes.
"I thought those guys are growing in some ways in terms of being able to handle those kinds of moments, maybe having poise and patience and just being, ‘Ok, let's read the defense, let's get a really good shot here, let's all work together to generate something positive,'" complimented Donovan.
The Kings called time trailing 109-101 with 5:55 remaining. Then LaVine held them off with a drive at Bagley on a switch for a three-point play. Then LaVine split Cory Joseph and Bagley to score on another Sunday-like excursion. Then he made sure the Kings weren't an object that is closer than it appears as he stepped back for what's becoming his speciality three, a 116-106 Bulls lead with four minutes left. Checkmate. Though Young spun past Bagley late for a just-to-make-sure score.
"I put (LaVine) back pretty early in that fourth and the effects of last night and travel, I thought we were playing a little tired coming down the stretch," admitted Donovan. "I give him credit. He made some big plays down the stretch for us. He played 37 minutes for us last night. I don't know what it was tonight. But he really carried us in a lot of ways offensively. He's really working to play both ends of the court."
Hear that Scott, Mike, Dwane, Thibs?