Bulls comeback falls short in loss to Sixers

The Bulls trimmed a 23-point lead down to one in the fourth quarter but weren't able to complete the comeback, falling to the Philadelphia 76ers 106-94. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were held to 15 points and 13 points, respectively, but the Sixers shot 53.3% from the field. The Bulls (26-39) will take on the Charlotte Hornets (31-33) on Thursday night.

Could the Bulls future be built around Javonte Green, Daniel Theis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Coby White and Denzel Valentine? Yup, who needs Zach and Vooch when Javonte is tip dunking and Coby and Denzel can't miss and Aminu is farouqing Dwight Howard into committing dumb fouls? And the Bulls are making one of their best runs of the season. Well, it was a heck of a fourth quarter Monday for the Bulls.

But those other three quarters were more hell for the Bulls. So the Philadelphia 76ers with their 20-point lead starting the fourth quarter withstood that fivesome's 24-5 gut punch that got the Bulls within 88-87 with seven minutes left on Valentine's second consecutive three pointer. These Bulls do, at least, keep coming. And then going as the 76ers in what's become a familiar storyline scored on five of their next six possessions to send the Bulls not only to a 106-94 defeat but much-too-close to the close of their 2020-21 season.

The 76ers picked up the pressure. White missed a quick three, Valentine and Williams made turnovers and Green rushed a layup and shot it over the rim. Which became 98-89 Philadelphia with four minutes left as at least the Bulls finally got their attention.

Though our attention is becoming cringe worthy.

The Bulls with seven games left fell four games behind still streaking Washington and four and a half behind ninth place Indiana for the last play-in tournament spots. The Bulls at a disappointing season low 26-39 face a tragic number of four for elimination. Meaning, also, if the Bulls win four of their last seven—and Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Zach LaVine could return Thursday in Charlotte from his 11-game Covid absence—the Pacers and Wizards need to win just one more game each. Toronto now leads the Bulls in 11th by a game.

"They understand what we're up against," said Donovan. "We've obviously had to play two games here without Zach and Vooch (missing his second straight game Monday with a hip problem). I think that guys have competed. We certainly, at times have labored and struggled to score. But, again, it's the fourth quarter, we're down by 20 and I thought our guys kept fighting and kept battling. I think this is a good group, a good character group. I would hope that each and every game we try to put our best foot forward and continue to compete and do the very, very best we can while we're out there."

Billy Donovan reacts to the 106-94 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.

On Monday against a weary 76ers team dragging in from an overtime win in San Antonio Sunday, Donovan reached out of his regular rotation for something. And he found it mostly in the barely used Green, who accompanied Theis to Chicago in the trading day chaos.

The 6-4 Green, who is a version of David Nwaba, opened the fourth quarter with a layup three-point play on a White pass and then got a flying tip dunk follow on a White miss after a Theis steal and Aminu suckering Howard into fouling him 28 feet from the basket with about a half second on the shot clock. And then White made three consecutive threes and Valentine two and at least you could write off this 76ers team from being serious title contenders.

"I think starting the fourth quarter we felt if we could get some stops and put some things together on both ends of the floor to get back in the game... Javonte was a big part of that," said Donovan. "I thought he was disruptive defensively. He made a couple of plays at the basket, he got a three-point play, he got a tip dunk. I thought he changed momentum for us, got us really back in the game pretty quickly just with his energy and I thought he did a lot of really good things out there."

Javonte Green provided a spark for the Bulls, scoring seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in 11 minutes.

But again in this discouraging and unfortunate slide losing seven of 11 without LaVine—yes, doubters, they need him—and a fatal 11 of the last 15 games, the Bulls skeleton starting team lacked that offensive meat.

Rookie Patrick Williams reverted to five points in 28 minutes. Garrett Temple added seven points in 28 minutes and a team high minus-30. Williams was second at minus 26. Thad Young twisted around for 13 points and Theis had 10. White led the Bulls with 23 points and five assists, but was quiet until 15 fourth quarter points.

On the whole, so were the Bulls, who without LaVine and Vucevic couldn't come close to matching the 76ers firepower with 21 points for Tobias Harris, 20 points for Seth Curry and 15 for Ben Simmons. A mostly somnambulant Joel Embiid added little with 13 points and 10 rebounds, nine points through three quarters.

Oh, those starts! The 76ers hit the Bulls with a late first quarter 16-3 and 17-point lead that was 34-20 after the first quarter.

Not that it seemingly would have mattered, but with the Bulls again taking too many threes (six of 24 through three quarters) and not getting inside much (18 paint points in the first half), the 76ers went ahead 55-34 and cruised to a 60-43 halftime lead.

The 76ers stayed in the spirit and marched their lead up to 82-59 late in the third quarter before settling for an 83-63 lead going to the fourth and among the rare citizens who look forward to being in Philadelphia.

Though it's obviously difficult for the Bulls to sustain without their two best players and scorers, they do continue to compete in these games and surprise opponents. Sort of like the relentless Pinkertons from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Heck, we all were wondering who were those guys when Green and Aminu were paired to start the fourth quarter. Now which one is number 11?

The Bulls comeback trimmed a 23-point lead to just a single point in the fourth quarter but it wasn't enough.

That's Green, the undrafted very small forward from Radford University, who turned down more significant football scholarships to play basketball. He did four years overseas before getting a look from the Celtics at 2019 Summer League. He admitted being traded from Boston was difficult after having established a role as a defensive specialist, and then not breaking into the Bulls rotation because without practices Donovan acknowledged it was difficult to assess Green's fit.

Pretty much head first, it seemed.

"Talking to Brad (Stevens) at Boston when the trade happened, he said, ‘You can put him in a game and he can kind of just guard a lot of really elite offensive players. He can give you some minutes and he can go in there and be disruptive and kind of break things up," Donovan recalled. "I thought he obviously did a lot of that tonight."

It at least turned a lifeless game into a fight for the 76ers life.

"I know why I'm here and I know what I have to do to play in the NBA," said Green, who had seven points in 11 minutes. "Just stay ready for when my number is called. I know what to do and what got me here. That's exactly why I'm here. Play good defense and bring the energy that the team lacks. That's what I brought at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters."

It was much welcomed not only with LaVine and Vucevic out, but Lauri Markkanen ill. But wanting to play because the Bulls were so shorthanded.

"Even on the road at Atlanta, I didn't think he (Markkanen) was right physically," admitted Donovan. "He's tried to go. I think he's tried to put his best foot forward. I just don't think he's himself with everything he's dealing with. It's more illness than anything. You can just see him out there. He's winded. He's very pale. I think he's really trying, but I know he's not at his best right now."

Perhaps just representing his teammates, in some respects.

So LaVine probably will play Thursday in Charlotte, the site of some of Zach's Greatest Attacks, though it's been awhile. Vucevic remains uncertain. The Bulls then get to play back home in front of a limited amount of fans—Monday's few hundred viewers was something of a Kohl's friends and family discount day—Friday against Boston. Remember, it ain't over...