Seven Bulls scored in double figures as Chicago was able to neutralize the dynamic Wizards backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal to secure a 115-107 victory over Washington for their first win of the season.
Yeah, like that.
The Bulls Tuesday put seven players in double figures led by Zach LaVine's 23 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals in an inaugural 115-107 victory over the Washington Wizards. Backcourt mate Coby White added 18 points and the Bulls got 43 points from the reserves led by Otto Porter Jr. with 16.
The Bulls cut down on a league most turnovers with just four in the first half and closed off the lane to limit the winless Wizards to 32 inside points after giving up more than double that in opening losses. The Wizards were just 10 of 37 on threes with their dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal two of nine on threes while the Bulls were a solid 42 percent from long range.
The Bulls, now 1-3, had a ball. So they gave one to new Bulls coach Billy Donovan to commemorate his first victory as Bulls coach. Talk about Billy Ball, if not Billy's ball.
"Just wanted to give him his first win here in Chicago," LaVine said. "Obviously a little late and especially the way we started out (the season). But first win is first win. Wanted to get that out of the way."
Zach LaVine scored 23 points in Chicago's first win of the season.
Donovan showed how smart he was both in the game with an informed defensive game plan to thwart Westbrook and Beal in the driving lanes, and then off the court as Donovan quickly gave the souvenir ball to basketball chief Arturas Karnisovas, who was with the team on its first road trip of the season.
Smart to make your boss feel good.
It also was a smart game plan, which was well executed by the players, that formed an interior wall to erase the driving lanes and push the Wizards into more long perimeter shooting. Washington is not a particularly good shooting team.
That active defensive effort was supported by LaVine and White looking more at the basket to start, which helped get the Bulls off to a 15-12 lead and 31-26 after one quarter, it being vital for this group not to challenge from behind. Donovan has been the mad scientist with his Bulls roster, testing different formulas coming off the short preseason and relatively recent introductions to his players' talents.
Though LaVine had "just" 23 points, it was one of his best games as a Bull, driving rapidly to kick out for open shots, setting up passes to his screeners, getting to the free throw line for eight attempts and showing off a bit with a sledgehammer slam dunk from the left wing that left Wizards rookie Deni Avdija running for cover.
"Whatever he's doing, just do it with force," Donovan said. "Do it with speed, athleticism and tempo and the rest will take care of itself. He's (LaVine) so gifted athletically. I really believe this for Zach: If the play starts off explosively for him where he's exploding in a play, it usually creates some separation and helps him. When he kind of comes out a little bit slower and catches it and lets the defense get set, it makes it a little bit more difficult for him."
LaVine was decisive as well as dynamic with Donovan beginning to recognize how much LaVine and White playing off their offense rather than trying to seek out plays for teammates energizes their games. Donovan later in the game used three-guard lineups often with Tomas Satoransky with all of his 10 points in the fourth quarter splitting playmaking responsibilities with LaVine as White played off the ball as a shooter.
"I try to feel the game out, but over the last couple of games when I started strong I feel like it got us out to a little bit better rhythm and we took off from there," said LaVine. "Sato obviously comes in and calms a lot of things down and I feel with me playmaking also it helps Coby get easier shots. We did a little bit of that last year and we're going to continue to work at it. I feel like I draw a lot of attention when I go to the hole, so continue to work on that and find players to get easier shots."
There was a slight setback as Lauri Markkanen attempted to play through his calf contusion suffered against the Warriors Sunday. But he was kicked in the same spot and had to ask out early in the third quarter after driving hard to the basket and playing well again. He finished with nine points in 19 minutes.
Lauri Markkanen had 9 points in 19 minutes but subbed himself out of the game early in the third quarter.
"It felt good in the first half," Markkanen said. "But of course you're going to get hit on it again right in the same spot. That happened. The second half I wanted to give it a try. But I felt like it was best for the team because I couldn't give anything for the team in the first three minutes, so I subbed myself out because I couldn't run full speed. I wanted to be there for my teammates. But you can't control freak accidents like that. Like last year, I had the ankle one where someone falls on my foot. You can't control that kind of stuff. You've got to be smart with it. It's frustrating that it happened again. I'm pissed that I wasn't able to be on the court when we finished the game out. But I'm glad the guys got it done."
Donovan also was apparently pleased to be able to employ longtime defensive favorite Andre Roberson in his closing fourth quarter group when the Wizards cut a 19-point deficit to 10 with 3:38 left. Not again?
But then Wendell Carter Jr. with a second consecutive double/double of 10 points and 12 rebounds rebounded a Beal miss and outletted a pass to White. He threw ahead to LaVine near the right three-point circle, the Bulls advancing the ball expeditiously rather than walking into plays. Donovan has urged quicker play to enhance scoring opportunities. LaVine then spotted Roberson running down the middle of the floor and splitting the Wizards for an easy layup and 12-point lead with under three minutes. Washington wasn't scoring that many and White added a nice isolation score soon after to avoid any potential last second threes or unrecognized violations.
OK no, it wasn't longtime Donovan Oklahoma City favorite Roberson if you were checking your rosters. It was Garrett Temple, who we can see why Donovan sought out in free agency. Temple is that sort of glue guy defender-type whom Donovan relied on in five years with the Thunder from Roberson to Lu Dort, the latter who Donovan has referred to during media sessions in Chicago seemingly more than Durant, Westbrook or Chris Paul.
Garrett Temple scored 12 points in 29 mins off the bench as he displayed his two-way ability in the win.
"He knows how to play the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Porter about Temple, also a past Wizard, though Temple has played for most NBA teams. "He brings energy, especially on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. Veteran guy. He's very vocal, talking to the younger point guards and just talking to the team about what he sees out there and just being a leader."
Donovan has been mostly consistent with his starters of LaVine, White, Markkanen, Carter and rookie Patrick Williams, who had 12 points and an important five straight early third quarter points when Washington opened with a run that forced Donovan into a timeout 40 seconds into the half. The guessing was who would finish. Donovan said these things will change as Thad Young still did not make an appearance even as he now is ready and Denzel Valentine remained out of the rotation. With the Wizards closing the margin in that fourth quarter, Donovan went long stretches with veterans Satoransky, Porter and Temple, White alternating some along with Carter and LaVine saved for the last seven minutes. It seems like it may portend a pattern.
"Otto and Garrett (and Satoransky) have very good basketball IQs," said Donovan. "They're smart players, experienced players. I think they give the group a level of confidence and belief. They've played against a lot of these guys in the league. They know the league real well. They know personnel. They help a guy like Patrick in talking to him about certain things or what may be getting ready to happen or what's going to come. I think they try to help Wendell, Lauri, all those guys, even Coby. Those guys have done a nice job. They've been total pros."
This time it was the Bulls who looked the part, like the pros. They were in control basically all game, leading after every quarter including 83-73 going into the fourth quarter. And then quickly extending that lead to 92-73 with fluid ball movement for four consecutive scores. There were two by Carter, the first after a Satoransky drive and drop pass for a Carter dunk and then Carter with a hard screen and roll for a layup on a Temple pass. Those were sandwiched around White dribbling full court, going around a Carter screen and down the lane for a tomahawk dunk attempt that drew a foul and Carter's priceless open mouthed Wow expression.
There was more of that this time, finally, than the befuddled looks of the first few games.
LaVine and White were on the attack to start. Donovan subbed out Markkanen first to get him back in a center rotation more as he's been doing. With Satoransky fitting in at point guard, there was good movement and was making his threes. Markkanen as he's done this season was taking the hits at the basket and finishing. And the Bulls were better with the ball without slowing down.
The Bulls ran into a dry stretch in a vapid second quarter, missing five straight shots and a pair of free throws in six possessions. But the Wizards were equally inept, though in part because of the tight interior the Bulls were showing. Fortunately, Washington shots were going awry. The Bulls defense is packed tighter this season under Donovan compared with the spread trapping and rotating they were doing last season. It looked good Tuesday.
"I thought it was important that we show those two guys a crowd," said Donovan of the plan for Beal and Westbrook. "We tried to get into some gaps and some driving lanes. I thought we made them work for their points. I thought we did a really good job of not letting (Westbrook) get directly all the way to the rim. He obviously shot the ball well from mid range, but you'd rather have him do that then get to the rim and take layups."
Rookie Patrick Williams added 12 points in 20 minutes, shooting 5-of-10 from the floor.
Porter contributed a pair of threes late in the second quarter for a 52-46 halftime lead and then playing cautiously out of halftime, Donovan quickly signaled a timeout. But to his nature he wasn't animated as much as academic. Williams, who doesn't seek out the ball much offensively, made a three and a layup and shortly thereafter a tip-in that looked like another Wizards score into their own basket by rookie Avdija. That after Wizards center Thomas Bryant dunked one last week for the Orlando Magic. There has been all that talk about aid coming from Washington. The Bulls closed the third quarter with nine straight LaVine points primarily on driving scores as the Bulls this time had the wheel.
"We've got this team in two days," LaVine noted about the mini series teams are playing this pandemic season. "I feel like we're going to get a new (Washington) team. They're going to come aggressive. We've got to be ready for it."
It finally looked like a new Bulls team.