Coby White, Nikola Vucevic, and Thad Young each scored 18 points as the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Hornets 108-91 at the United Center, Chicago led by as much as 27 points and never trailed. The Bulls (25-34) will look for another win on Saturday against the Miami Heat (31-28).
How are life and the Bulls, you know, like a box of chocolates? Anyone, anyone? You, Forrest Gump, do you know?
You never know if you're going to get Bulls-Cavs, like the 33-point deficit and crushing loss Wednesday to one of the league's worst teams. Or if you're going to get the Bulls dominating 108-91 victory Thursday over the playoff bound Charlotte Hornets in which the Bulls led from a 10-0 start and by 27 points along the way.
You just never know what you're gonna get with these Bulls. It is a very confusing time to be a Bulls fan.
"I'm hopeful we can come back and respond again," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "That's the biggest thing I've always said about the group is the consistency of being able to come back. We had a really good game against Boston the way we competed and played. Then we came back and didn't against Cleveland and then we came back and did against Charlotte. Can we come back and do it against Miami?"
Billy Donovan takes questions following Chicago's 108-91 win over the Hornets.
And so awaits the next crucible for these Bulls, who continue to grasp at that last playoff play-in spot like a cat hanging from a tree branch. They seem to be slipping, but they're not letting go.
They are a team, like French philosophy de Tocqueville said about infant America, full of apprehension and hope.
And so comes perhaps the team's most gravitational stretch of games. Are they able to handle Miami and New York on the road the next three games to pull away from the tug of defeat and near playoff elimination? Or come crashing down in this quixotic quest?
"We're just trying to figure all that out," said Nikola Vucevic, who had 18 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, one of three Bulls along with Coby White and Thad Young with a game high 18 points. "Sometimes you have nights like we had last night. And some nights we have tonight. Also understand there's only 13 games left. We're trying to get into one of those play-in spots. So we can't really have any nights like we did last night. The effort just wasn't acceptable for an NBA-level game. So hopefully we can continue to bring this kind of energy that we did tonight, this kind of focus, be ready to play from the beginning and we'll give ourselves a chance.
Highlights from Chicago's bounce back win against Charlotte on Thursday night.
"It was great to have a response like we did," said Vucevic. "It shows character. It shows pride within the guys. That's what you want to see. We were all very happy that we were able to win before we go on the road again. Hopefully, we can continue to build on it. Obviously, we're going to play a very good opponent these next two games in Miami (starting Saturday). But if we bring the same focus, the same energy and we're locked in defensively, we can give ourselves a chance."
The Bulls Thursday never gave Charlotte, now 28-30, almost any chance. The Bulls scored the first 10 points and basically had a double digit lead the last 40 minutes of the game. It was by 11 after one quarter, by 14 at half-time and then after the Hornets changed their starters to a smaller, quicker group to start the second half to get within 65-56, the Bulls weren't as opaque as they can be. The Bulls went to their slower game inside with Vucevic and Daniel Theis scoring. And when double teamed, turning outside to White threes. The born again point guard was four of six on threes.
It's what the Bulls didn't do against the Cavaliers and sometimes struggle with since the acquisition of Vucevic, the ability to take advantage of his post skills and play inside/outside. Vucevic was masterful in taking the buzz out of the Hornets and the game.
Nikola Vucevic put together an 18 point, 16 rebound double-double in the win over Charlotte.
"When they went small, we knew we had a size advantage and we really tried to take advantage of that," said Vucevic. "I thought we did a good job of playing inside/out. Sometimes we would be able to finish in the paint and sometimes we'd be able to kick the ball out and create shots for other people on the perimeter."
Especially White, who in five games back starting is looking a lot more like the point guard the Bulls envisioned, if not imagined.
White is averaging 17.2 points and 6.4 assists with just 1.4 turnovers. He didn't have any of the Bulls 17 turnovers Thursday in 28 minutes.
"I told y'all, (assistant coach) Mo Cheeks, Mo Cheeks," enthused White. "He's still on me. He challenges me. Like today, he was like, ‘I don't care about last game. I care about this game. Can you be consistent?' He keeps challenging me. Mo talks a lot of crap, as I would say. But he keeps challenging me each and every game. I'm the type of dude, you challenge me, don't think I can do something, or if I feel like you don't think I can do something, I'm going to go out there and prove it to you that I can. That's just how I am.
Coby White slams one home off a nice feed from Garrett Temple against the Hornets.
"I think it's (the game) just starting to slow down," said White. "I just feel like in today's day and age, everybody just wants it to happen now. I feel like certain things are a process. Everybody doesn't figure it out on the fly. I'm still learning, I'm still growing. I've had ups and downs, but I'm going to continue to keep learning and growing and be that sponge. I know y'all are tired of hearing me talk about Mo, but I spend a lot of time talking to Mo because he was a Hall of Fame point guard; just learning from him as much as I can. Teaching me and showing me the ropes and ways that I can impact the game other than just scoring."
It was with ruthless ingenuity and piercing temerity to start the game, Vucevic inside and White outside, each with nine first quarter points for a 34-23 first quarter Bulls lead. It seemed to come so effortlessly this time for the Bulls. And sure, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were out for Charlotte. But Zach LaVine remained missing from Covid protocols, a much larger absence that doesn't seem close to ending.
"With Zach out that's 28 points out of the lineup," White noted. "We have to figure a way to make that up. Nobody on the team is going to average 28. So we have to come out and compete each and every night."
The Bulls did, which perhaps drew closer a painful reckoning. How could this Charlotte team be one the 25-34 Bulls are chasing when the Bulls handle them so easily, seem to have superior talent and almost make the result predictable?
So why not always? Or at least more often?
That's obviously the goal, and we hear plenty of talk about communing and communicating and experiencing. Understandable if not always being acceptable. Those are the vicissitudes of the game for a team remade halfway through the season. But is it too late? This next week should offer a lot of explanation.
"I just hope we can understand with the limited amount of time that we have left, the number of games we have left on our schedule, can we just put our best foot forward?" wondered Donovan. "With physicality and the things that are going to go into winning."
Vucevic shoots a jumper over Charlotte's Miles Bridges in the first-half against the Hornets.
The Bulls handled those things and the Hornets deftly in the supposedly more difficult game, the second of the back to back after travel home from Cleveland.
Though the Bulls fired off 43 three pointers, they also worked cleverly inside for a 52-44 paint point margin with Vucevic. The Bulls using their size were the aggressors, 18-5 in second chance points and 49-39 on the boards with 30 assists. It's been the identity goal Donovan has spoken about, if not always achieved. The Bulls also got 47 points off the bench with 11 for Lauri Markkanen and 10 from Tomas Satoransky, including an angry running slam dunk. Or as angry as he seems to get.
Now can they bring it with them and apply some heat to Miami?