Billy Donovan challenges team to fight through adversity as Bulls fall to 0-2.

Indiana outscored Chicago 33-15 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Despite having a one-point lead after the first quarter, the Pacers used a 33-15 third quarter to fuel a 125-106 Indiana victory, dropping the Bulls to 0-2 to start the season.

Anyone seen that drawing board?

"We're the ones putting ourselves in this hole," Zach LaVine acknowledged after another ugly opening week loss for the Bulls, this time 125-106 Saturday to the Indiana Pacers with another 30-point deficit. "I was just in there (locker room) trying to talk with everybody, keep us together. We haven't even been able to compete to finish the game. It's almost been over in the third quarter. We played better, I think, than we did against Atlanta. I think we came ready to play. Their runs, we didn't respond to it and get back into the game."

That being this time after falling behind the Hawks by 40 points on opening night a 21-0 second quarter run after the Bulls led 40-34 three minutes into the second quarter and an 18-0 run to start the second half that effectively ended the competition part of the evening in the United Center.

Zach LaVine

The Pacers contained Zach LaVine, who finished with 17 points

"We've got bad habits," LaVine conceded. "We've got to learn how to break them. To be honest with you, we have to fight. You can't let those lapses go for that long and drift. I take that a little bit on me. But I think it's the whole team. We have to do a better job of breaking those bad habits and just getting down to playing basketball."

Or winning basketball to be more precise as the Bulls dropped to 0-2, though the magnitude of defeat and the absence of sustained competition making it more discouraging in what was supposed to be a new era. No, it ain't over yet. But the gun sounded and the Bulls still are in the starting blocks.

LaVine led the Bulls with 17 points and Lauri Markkanen added 16 points with another strong start that included 14 points in the first half when there was the hope of a contest. Coby White had 12 points after making three of four three pointers in a first quarter in which the Bulls led 28-27. But again he was mechanical and uncertain looking to pass until he began to seek out his offense.

Garrett Temple

Garrett Temple had 6 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals in his Bulls debut

Injured and ill players Denzel Valentine, Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple returned. Valentine made three of four threes for 11 points while Temple was savvy on defense with a pair of steals as the only Bull playing more than 10 minutes with a positive plus/minus.

Though Bulls coach Billy Donovan mixed and matched starters with reserves in the experimentation he said will continue and also could involve staters' changes.

"I've talked to these guys a lot and I think even some of the older guys have talked; there's got to be a level of sacrifice that goes into it," Donovan said. "Somebody who is starting may not start; someone who is off the bench may be starting. Those things could happen. I've got to try to find the right combinations both starting and off the bench to help the team and help the group and they are going to have to understand the decisions I am going to make are for the benefit and the growth of the team."

Again like in the opener Wednesday, the Bulls competed most fiercely late, 15-4 and 15-2 fourth quarter runs behind the shooting and scoring of Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono that actually drew the Bulls within 11 with about four minutes left after trailing by 30 early in the fourth. At least it forced the Pacers to bring back starters, who quickly extended their lead back to 18.

Which perhaps was a greater indictment since most every time the Pacers took the game seriously, the Bulls relaxed.

Not so much Donovan, who isn't known to have raised his voice these last few decades. But he delivered a defining message that, yeah he'll help, but they better start figuring this out.

"We get up six or eight, they get on a run, they turn up the heat, turn up the pressure. We have a couple turnovers and we don't stop it. That's this team's, so to speak, cross to bear," said Donovan. "They don't handle it. They internalize their mistakes, they internalize what's going on, and I've said this before, they've got to do this together. They've got to fight together. We're probably on most nights not going to be the most athletic or the most talented or the most experienced, but we can be a team – we have control over it – that can have a lot more fight in ourselves. I came out on the court one time because I saw them come out of the huddle and they just all looked totally dejected. The bottom line is this is professional basketball and you've got to be able to respond and deal with adversity. I think for anybody at this level if you can't handle that, it's hard to be a great, great player at this level."

Billy Donovan takes questions from the media following Chicago's Saturday night loss to Indiana.

That didn't sound encouraging, though it seems like a variation of things we've heard for a few years: Shots miss and heads down, bad offense becomes bad defense, get tougher; you know, figuratively not literally. Though it's sort of like what Coby White has struggled with trying to be a point guard. You either see the court and everyone a move or two ahead; or you don't. It's not something you learn.

Which sounded like the distinction Donovan didn't realize he was making when he made a comparison with some of his Oklahoma City teams.

"If there was one thing some of the players I was fortunate enough to coach in Oklahoma City, Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant, their internal drive, it's like incredible what they do," Donovan said. "Just how driven and motivated and relentless they are and we need to get more of a relentless attitude and spirit."

All, by the way, being top league MVP candidates. But also perhaps something common to all of them that makes them special in that special talent way of the NBA. All of them tend to be difficult people. Paul famously alienated his Clippers teammates to the point they were lobbying for him to be traded. Of course, they did worse when he left. Westbrook has feuded with various media and any interruption for years. He scowls. Durant almost fought with Golden State teammates on the floor and even goes after fans who question him on Twitter. These guys all have an attitude. It doesn't mean they are unfit citizens or bad to their family. Actually, Some of the sweetest public moments have been between Durant and his mom. But like with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, there's some nastiness, a sharp defining edge to these players that seems to elevate them. Julius Erving was the most wonderful person. He kept coming up short until he was paired with the exasperating Moses Malone.

Perhaps Donovan even acknowledged it when asked after the game about whether even he saw this coming.

"Listen, these guys are a great group of guys," said Donovan. "They do work very, very hard. They come in every single day and try to get better as a group. I have great respect for that. But I think as young players, when you have experienced losing, it can beat you down. The bottom line is as they get further and further beaten down, they have to be responsible for their own rescue. If someone throws a life raft out there, you have to actually swim to it. You can't say bring it to me. We have to be responsible for digging ourselves back out of the hole."

Donovan and basketball chief Arturas Karnisovas essentially said this season would be a shakedown cruise to test this Bulls vessel's performance and game worthiness. And discover who might provide the ballast for the voyage. They're searching.

This was a game for a bit longer than against Atlanta with some hopeful signs from Markkanen, who was driving the ball and calling for the ball in the post in the first quarter. White scored nine straight Bulls points as the Bulls took their season high 18-10 lead. Wendell Carter pretty much abandoned the three pointer early and made a short jumper and drew contact for free throws. But he admitted the change in defensive systems from aggressive trapping to dropping back into protection has him uncertain.

Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen finished the game with 16 points.

"We can't blame the coaching staff for everything that happens," said Carter. "Once we learn to hold ourselves accountable on the court we'll be able to make that turn. But until then it's going to be the same thing. I'm putting too much of my focus on my man when he doesn't have the ball. And me sinking so far into the paint allowing these guards to get downhill. I've never played a drop [defense] in my life. It's something new for me and I know for a fact I'm going to get a hang of it.''

The Bulls looked like they had something going with Otto Porter Jr. leading a reserves group to a 40-34 second quarter lead. But then, of all guys, Pacers pest guard T.J. McConnell stole consecutive inbounds passes made by Patrick Williams. And the rout was on. The Pacers scored 21 straight points as the Bulls bumbled into a half dozen turnovers and a bunch of quick shots and it was 55-40 Indiana.

It was a brutal initiation to the NBA game for Williams, who was torched in the first quarter trying to defend T.J. Warren who had a dozen points. He was one of three Pacers to score at least 22 points with Domantas Sabonis getting a triple double. The Pacers shot 56 percent and again with little resistance inside Indiana had 76 paint points. Williams had nine points, but raised again the question of whether at his size he can defend the quick wing scorers. Meanwhile, Satoransky with nine assists showed the most expertise as a facilitator.

"Whatever the run there was in the second quarter, 21-0, we've got to be able to stop the bleeding sooner than that," said Donovan. "I've told these guys in an NBA game there's usually a 23-point swing, which means that a team is either up 11, 12 or 13 points and the game will swing back and forth that much."

The Pacers led 66-56 at halftime, and then the swing fell on the Bulls heads with an Indiana 18-0 run, the Pacers with 25 points off turnovers in the game, 14 of the 20 by the Bulls starters. Markkanen was high with nine rebounds, but there was no significant rebound for the Bulls once again.

"No one wanted to start that way," Satoransky acknowledged. "Obviously, everyone knows it takes time. But that happened last year as well, so we have to change it immediately. We can't be saying always, ‘It's next game, next game we are going to do better.' It has to come immediately and I feel like the guys want to do that and we have to find a way to help each other and not have those moments."

The Bulls close the early home part of their schedule Sunday against the Golden State Warriors, the other team along with the Bulls that has suffered massive opening losses. And they still have Steph Curry. Of course, Steph is the nicest guy of all and has those championships. So it's not a law.

"We have the former champions coming in," noted LaVine. "They've got the 0-2 start as well. And if we don't think they're coming in here to kick our ass, then we're thinking something different."

Just what are they thinking?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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