Bulls fall to Heat

The Bulls battled back in the last few minutes of the game with Valentine's three pointers, but it wasn't enough to overcome the slow start. Bulls fall to Miami 116-108.

This one is going to need some of that political spin room treatment. You know, for the last 43 minutes the Bulls outscored the 11-3 Miami Heat by almost double digits. In the fourth quarter, what Pat Riley called, "Winnin' time," the Bulls hit the Heat with an 11-0 run in a dazzling 41-point fourth quarter. The final score? Wait a minute. In the crucial second half, the Bulls outscored surprising and powerful Miami by 16 points. Talk about your halftime adjustments.

Though it actually didn't go very well Friday as the Bulls lost to Miami 116-108 after the Heat started the game with 15 consecutive points and early in the third quarter was ahead by 26. Miami pulled its starters with five minutes left in the game leading by 21 points only to see an auxiliary group of Bulls, several of whom had barely even played this season, like Denzel Valentine and Max Strus, get within eight points with two minutes left on one of Valentine's trio of three pointers in the last 1:53.

BullsTV recap of Bulls vs. Heat

"I asked the team at halftime to win the third and win the fourth," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I asked them to move the ball better and guard better and I thought we did that. As frustrating as it is, I'm proud of the group for not laying down and dying."

Miami had to bring starters Jimmy Butler with a game-high 27 points and Bam Adebayo back into the game to prevent the unnatural result.

"I probably pulled [the starters] a little bit too early," admitted Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "Things go so much quicker now in this league and it's a lesson learned on my part."

Hey, Thibodeau always warned them. Stick with your starters.

Which produced the most post game reaction when Boylen singled out one of his starters, leading scorer Zach LaVine, for special attention and a benching with 8:33 left in the first quarter and the Bulls trailing 13-0. Boylen left in the four other starters despite the dismal opening and inserted Ryan Arcidiacono.

Inside the Locker Room with Ryan Arcidiacono

"I thought he needed a break," Boylen said when asked why he chose to substitute only LaVine.

The Heat after the change outscored the Bulls 18-11 in the next six minutes before LaVine replaced Arcidiacono.

Teaching moment or punishment?

Greater demands and tough love because LaVine is the team's best scorer?

The beginning of the end?

Or a new start?

"I felt there were some defensive mistakes that didn't need to be made," Boylen added. "I think we can all do better. I put a lot of pressure on him to improve and be a two-way player. And we're still in those learning moments. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen and our starters have to play better for us to become what we can become; that's how it works.

"He had three egregious defensive mistakes that I talked to him about," said Boylen.

It's never simple to determine who was at fault in a mixup because you never know the actual defensive assignment or plan. LaVine is not a good defender; he'll admit that. But in this case it did seem like a team-wide letdown in that early stretch.

On one occasion former Simeon Career Academy and Illini Kendrick Nunn—perhaps the biggest surprise story of the NBA season—was wide open for a three pointer. But both Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. were barely trotting back in transition. So LaVine dropped off into the lane to prevent a fast break score. Then on another, an open Butler three, LaVine and Harrison clearly were mixed up and collided on an apparent switch. Though it was just Harrison's second game of the season, so it's not likely there'd be ideal communication yet.

LaVine despite the mostly invisible start led the team with 15 points.

So perhaps with the acclaim also comes the blame?

Though LaVine's words were sharp, he spoke in a quiet monotone and seemed more hurt than angry.

"I guess I was the blame for it," LaVine said when told by reporters the coach mentioned his defensive errors. "I've gotten pulled early before by him. I guess that's just his thing to do. You have to take it in stride; I'm not the coach. What did he say I got pulled for?

"Zach LaVine got 13 points scored on him, I guess," LaVine offered. "Or was it the starting five? I don't remember. I thought I was trying to do my job out there. I have to take it (in) stride. Like I said, I can't do anything about it. I just can control what I can control. I can't control my minutes. If you want to just pull me, yeah (it feels like I'm getting singled out).

"I don't remember seeing three egregious mistakes," LaVine countered. "I think I was supposed to show on one and I didn't. I told him because Jimmy usually doesn't set screens; he slips out of them. I didn't want to show and have him cut right to the basket. But they told me to show and I didn't show. The other two I don't know. He thinks I had three egregious defensive mistakes. He can have his own opinion on that.

"I try to talk early," LaVine explained about his thinking on defense. "Especially the one with Kendrick Nunn. I had to protect the paint. Can't just give up a transition layup. Once you call that man, it's going to be hard to play two people. I have to look at the one with Jimmy in the corner. I think we got messed up on a switch. I didn't respond; he called switch and didn't respond to it and he got an open three; I think he (Butler) airballed that one."

Though LaVine said he remains optimistic about the season despite the lumbering start.

"We're all out of rhythm and we're trying to find it," LaVine said. "We're obviously trying to win. I think we're a really good team. We have some things we have to continue to get better at. We're just not there yet.

"I think I did a good job the rest of the game," said LaVine. "Tried to move the ball a little bit (two assists and two steals). I had a bad turnover in the second quarter where I spun into a double team, but besides that when I drove in there and people helped, I pitched the ball and got people open shots. I'm trying to do what I can to help. I feel like I'm taking strides (defensively). You don't want to get singled out and show all the mistakes you've done. I'm not perfect out there. I'm not going to say I'm a defensive player of the year candidate, but I'm going to go out there and try to compete. I feel I've done a really good job on my man. I've done a lot better job of rotations and things like that. I'm still working on it like everyone else on this team."

It did appear like a collective failure as the Bulls dropped to 5-11 and 0-7 against teams with winning records. Thaddeus Young and Coby White off the bench each had 12 points and Arcidiacono and Harrison 10 each with most of theirs in that fourth quarter run. Markkanen reverted to his slumping with nine points on three of 12 shooting. Young led with eight rebounds and Kris Dunn again led with three steals, the Bulls still causing turnovers with 19 for 26 points.

But the Heat overwhelmed and outclassed the Bulls with structured play and swift ball movement that resulted in 33 assists on 39 baskets. And through three quarters when the game was basically decided 52.5 percent shooting and 39 percent on threes. The Bulls through three were four of 18 on three pointers and more than doubled up on second chance points.

"I thought their starting unit, their physicality, the force at which they played hurt us early," said Boylen.

Miami plays somewhat slower than many teams with late shot clock attempts as they make multiple passes and moves. Butler has been a big addition, and he spent at least an hour pregame wandering the United Center greeting and hugging old friends from the Bulls. Butler was ebullient about Miami, and not just the weather. He talked excitedly about the level of demand and accountability placed on every player. And it was evident in the third quarter with Miami leading 75-57 after Harrison and Tomas Satoransky scored on fast break layups, the second following a missed shot.

Spoelstra called timeout and practically had to be restrained by his assistants as he was furious with his starters, throwing his papers from his clipboard at the bench at one point. Miami came back out with an Adebayo dunk on a Butler pass, one of more than an half dozen straight line dunks the Heat had, and then a fast break layup after a White turnover. Miami led 85-67 after three quarters and banged in a pair of three to start the fourth quarter to lead 91-69. It seemed safe when Spoelstra relieved his regulars with 4:55 left. The Bulls did, also.

Which produced a few nice moments.

First was when Max Strus scored his first NBA basket on a follow of a Valentine miss.

"I really didn't think about it like that until now," Strus said in the locker room. "It's pretty cool to get my first NBA points; hopefully that's the first of many."

Strus is the shooting guard from south suburban Hickory Hills who is on a two-way contract. Not recruited out of high school, he went to Division II Lewis U. and then transferred to DePaul and joined legendary Mark Aguirre as the only players to score 700 points in a season. He wasn't drafted, but played in Summer League for Boston and then signed with the Bulls.

Valentine hopefully earned his way back into the team's rotation after playing a total of six minutes all season, though Boylen was non-committal. Valentine is one of the team's best three-point shooters, and shooting has been a weakness this season. But Valentine never has gotten into the rotation, presumably because of defensive issues as Harrison, Arcidiacono and Daniel Gafford moved ahead.

Valentine had nine points in that last 4:55 with two rebounds and an assist. Boylen before the game said Valentine always has stayed ready, worked hard and been a positive teammate, and that a change could happen for anyone at any time.

It obviously did for LaVine early in Friday's game. The Bulls play in Charlotte Saturday, and the way this season has been going you never know which change is next.