A 30-point halftime deficit proved too much overcome as the Lakers snapped the Bulls' three-game win streak with a 101-90 victory. Anthony Davis led Los Angeles with 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting while Zach LaVine paced the Bulls with 21 points.
So the Bulls aren't going to win the championship this season.
NBA reality laid a hard screen on the Bulls Saturday — hey, someone call that out! Didn't anyone see that coming! — as the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in a 101-90 victory made certain immediately the Bulls didn't think they were a team that had a chance to win with a last shot, as the Bulls almost did in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Starting late at 8 p.m., the Lakers finished the Bulls early with a 20-6 start, a 29-17 lead after the first quarter, 41-19 four minutes into the second quarter and 63-33 at halftime.
And imagine if LeBron James were playing well.
James was less than magnificent in that first half with four turnovers, three missed free throws and four of nine shooting. His complaining about non calls, however, was at Hall of Fame level. But Anthony Davis, who missed that game in Los Angeles, didn't miss much of anything as he went over, around and through the smaller Bulls missing Wendell Carter Jr. for 26 first half points, 37 for the game.
Lakers big man and Chicago native Anthony Davis scored a season-high 37 points against the Bulls.
"I didn't think we played to our identity in that first half," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "We penetrated and charged too much. We didn't find open people when they were there. They were coming in and really protecting the paint. We had some turnovers, gave up some offensive rebounds. The first half, it wasn't who we've been."
But it was who they are, if not so much just the result of the game. The Bulls are better than that. OK, yes, most everyone is. The Bulls just have some growing to do. Literally, as well.
"Listen," pleaded Donovan, "they're posting up Anthony Davis on Thad (Young). They're posting him up on Lauri (Markkanen). There's a huge size differential there. LeBron's got size differential every game he plays in. They are a very, very big team."
And the Bulls are not. And not just because Carter was out with a thigh injury. Otto Porter Jr. took off for a rest day in the second of the back to back, though the way the Lakers started if both were there the Bulls probably would only have been down 27 at halftime.
The Lakers have size in James and Davis that's difficult to defend, but it's far more than that. Other teams are as big or bigger since the Lakers' second unit is smaller with Montrezl Harrell at center. It's the way the much more experienced Lakers play defense, pressuring, rotating, bumping and bashing. There's long been this accusation about these Bulls players that they are not tough. That's not true. They're very tough; you have to be tough to endure what they have the last few years and come out the other side playing as they have this season, now 7-9 with their three-game win streak ended.
Zach LaVine drives against Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell
They're not physical people. Their skills are finesse oriented, notably players like Markkanen, Coby White and to an extent Zach LaVine. It's why they can score like they have, the sub-100 points game Saturday ending a record run of averaging 120 points the last nine games. These Bulls do the things of the modern NBA game, shoot and run and jump. Everyone keeps telling them it's about the skills. Until, as Mike Tyson said, you get punched in the mouth.
Plus the Bulls, especially the starters, are young people, which means their bodies haven't matured. It's why you often see more talented young players on the bench overseas. It's difficult to compete with adults. The Lakers have some serious adults in James and Davis. Not only do they know what's coming— "It starts off with LeBron; his IQ is off the charts," said LaVine. "He knows all your plays."—but they make every shot and every movement difficult with relentless defense hustle. You make a shot, you've earned it.
LaVine was able to make some shots to start since he is the most accustomed to playing through that sort of harassment given what he's faced in the last few years trying to carry the team. LaVine scored the Bulls first two baskets giving the Bulls their only lead of the game, 4-2.
Then he did that make the right play thing and Markkanen missed three straight threes, White missed, Patrick Williams missed, Young missed, Daniel Gafford starting again for Carter had an offensive foul. So LaVine went and got the ball back and drove for a score to make it... 20-8.
"He (LaVine) had it going a little early and you would've liked to maybe have seen what could've happened if he continued to go," said Donovan. "But there's also another part of it where you could be saying, ‘Did he force it too much?' The one thing I respect about Zach is he's a team guy and he's trying to play the right way."
LaVine shot four of seven in the first quarter; everyone else was two of 16. He had the team's only assist. Davis with 15 points almost outscored the Bulls by himself.
LaVine led the Bulls with 21 points and a team high 10 rebounds with seven turnovers. Coby White had 14 points, but continued his poor shooting, a team low 40 percent overall for the season and 35 percent the last seven games. It's not unlike last season when trying to concentrate on point guard responsibilities his scoring and shooting suffered. Williams had 13 points and Markkanen 12. The Bulls bench was outscored 33-26 led by Cristiano Felicio's seven. James had 17 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and six turnovers on six of 16 shooting.
Coby White finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists but continued his shooting struggles, going 5-of-13 from the field.
"AD makes a big difference," said LaVine. "They swarmed to the ball. I think their pressure messed with us a little bit and their physicality, but we also didn't make shots. I don't think we made a three until the second half (Williams after the Bulls missed their first 13 threes).
"We just have to come out with that type of urgency at the beginning of the game," LaVine added. "It's not like anybody is going out there like, ‘All right, we're not ready.' But you get lost in the game a little bit. They make their runs and before you know it, you look up and you're down 30. Every game you're not going to go out there and make 30 assists or make 50 percent of your shots. You've got to find other ways to get it done and still be in the game."
It should help getting back to Eastern Conference opposition Monday even if it's the Boston Celtics.
"Very important how we respond," said LaVine. "I think that's the main thing that we have to look forward to. This game's over with. We know what we did wrong. Now it's just not letting it happen again. You're going to be down in different games and you're not able to shoot the ball great, but you still have to be competitive and be in the game and give yourselves a chance to win in the end. I'm looking forward to this Boston game."
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 21 points but shot 9-of-23 from the floor in the loss.
The Lakers, 13-4, aren't a great team; they have two great players. They started Marc Gasol at center. He was scoreless in 19 minutes and looked worse than that. Their bench isn't better than the Bulls, though Garrett Temple had a rare poor game. But they brought the Kryptonite that turns Bulls players green, the pressure defense that has seen the Bulls at their poorest, like against the Pacers and Bucks earlier this season. It isn't like the Bulls retreat; it's more the lack of size without an interior seven footer and a young starting five that hasn't experienced that kind of play, which teams mostly find in the playoffs. Bulls players only have been able read about that. It's a large part of what this season is about, to analyze and develop for the future, and hopefully get into the playoffs and experience some of those games. At 7-9 and coming off a good run in Los Angeles and the recent winning streak, the Bulls finally are getting into position. The roster still is in the formative stages for the new management. So it continues to be shaped.
"They're the world champions for a reason," said Donovan. "They're really, really good. I said you have to do a lot of things well in the game. Certainly we dug ourselves a hole in that first quarter. The second half, it was good to see our guys compete the way they did. We got back to a little bit more to who we want to be as a team.
"When we're playing against size and physicality, a lot of times we're not the biggest team and we're not the strongest team," Donovan acknowledged. "The only way you can beat size and physicality is through ball movement and through willingness and a commitment to cutting and moving. If we get stationary and teams can use their length and size and physicality, that's gonna overwhelm us. I think you could see in that first half we were overwhelmed because we weren't able to do those things."
The Bulls played Friday in Charlotte while the Lakers hung around in their Chicago hotel rooms. Though that was not what this game was about.
"They're too long, too physical and too smart," Donovan said.
Starting the second half leading by 30, it seemed apparent the Lakers had made their point. LeBron bumbled through the quarter indifferently, missing five of seven shots and dribbling into turnovers. The Lakers removed the handcuffs and the the Bulls had a run of three pointers late in the quarter to get within 79-66. But the Bulls opened the fourth quarter against the similarly unimpressive Lakers reserves by failing to score in their first seven possessions. So there wasn't even going to be a scare as LeBron and Davis sat out the fourth quarter. The Bulls closed the game 15-4 to almost get the deficit under double digits.
That's OK. We've seen enough so far to know that at least this season this will be the aberration instead of the identity.