Despite shooting 52.8% from the floor, it was tough defensive showing for the Bulls as they fell to the Golden State Warriors 116-102 in San Francisco. Golden State hit 16 three-pointers, led by six from Steph Curry who finished with 32 points. Chicago was led by Nikola Vucevic who paced the Bulls with 21 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. The Bulls (19-26) will look to bounce back on Wednesday agains the Phoenix Suns (31-14).
Lauri Markkanen got benched and didn't start for the second time in his career, Coby White came up with a shoulder problem and sat out for the first time in his career, Zach LaVine tweaked his sprained ankle and will consider sitting out for the first time this season, Garrett Temple left the game with a hamstring injury and the Bulls Monday lost their fourth consecutive game and third by double digits, 116-102 to the Golden State Warriors.
So how's your day going?
"I still think we have ways to go defensively," offered Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "The defense to me, I'm hopeful we can get better as time goes on."
And suddenly the time is racing, just as their opponents have to the basket recently, the optimism of the Bulls acquisition last week of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic now being tempered by the crush of the schedule, injuries and Donovan attempting to solve this jigsaw puzzle of a roster without knowing the edges. The Bulls, though still 10th, saw their record fall to 19-26.
So Donovan following the loss in San Antonio Saturday during which the interior defense was shaken made his first of what appears to be many moves to come; no hidebound Billy. Markkanen went to the bench basically for the first time in his career, replaced by Thad Young, who had been starting at center.
And though the offense thrived with 60 first half points and a massive 22 assists on 27 field goals, the Warriors were even more potent than the Spurs with 65 points, Stephen Curry returning injury—four words no opponent wants to hear—as Curry scored 18 of his game high 32 in the half. Vucevic led the Bulls in then game with 21 points and nine rebounds, but he got just 13 field goal attempts as the Bulls again looked perhaps too unselfish.
Unselfish is nice, but perhaps Vucevic shouldn't be passing to Troy Brown that much.
Nikola Vucevic scored 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting in his second game as a Chicago Bull.
"You don't want to come in to a team and just play your game no matter what," said Vucevic. "I think you can build those good habits. Eventually as we get more comfortable, guys will get a feel for each other and there'll be that chemistry where everybody will be comfortable playing their game. So I'll take that over not playing as a team."
Though perhaps now, especially with LaVine obviously struggling enough that Donovan is mentioning it, Vucevic may need a little of that 43-point Nikola who crushed the Bulls earlier this season.
"There were times where I thought Zach should have shot the ball. And there's times I thought he could have found Vooch," said Donovan. "And there's times I thought Vooch could have made a play at the post, but he's passing the ball out. We had 33 assists tonight. These guys are unselfish. They play the right way. As much as you want to expedite a lot of this, we're going to have to learn how to play with each other. And we're going to have to establish an identity on the offensive and defensive end of the floor."
Billy Donovan spoke with the media following Chicago's 120-104 loss to Golden State.
Donovan's incubator, with which he's nurtured impressive growth, has been to help the team begin constructing that identity foundation, at least on offense, with ball and player movement, unselfish play and pace, the circadian rhythms of an effective and balanced team. His analysis and reasoning generally tends to be trenchant. But good guys that they are, which Donovan frequently mentions, they are eager to please. So much so, especially with the propitious addition of Vucevic, that they want it to come immediately. That's asking a lot against veteran, poised teams like the Warriors and Spurs.
With the complication that Zach hasn't been quite Zach lately pushing through that ankle problem. Donovan said he's seen LaVine run and shoot for 40 games, and it doesn't look like this.
After a few days of denying he needs healing time, LaVine didn't exactly call for crutches. But it seems like he might need someone to lean on.
"It's a decision I'm going to have to make coming up because obviously you (media) guys can tell I'm not myself," LaVine admitted after his second consecutive game scoring fewer than 20 points for the first time this season with 12 points. "I'm just trying to go out there and obviously tough it out. But I rolled it a little bit again today, so I'll figure it out later. You try to play through injuries, but I'm not trying to be a detriment to the team and obviously not trying to hurt myself going forward either.
Zach LaVine struggled shooting the ball, scoring 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting against the Warriors.
"I'm going to have to (think about sitting out) because like I said, I rolled it a little bit today when I fell out there," LaVine added. "So I feel I'm back at square one again. I'm going to have to try to make some adjustments. I'll do everything I can to get myself ready to go, but I'll have a conversation (with the coach and medical staff) going forward and figure it out."
Similarly with Markkanen, whose nature has been to be reserved. Now he is one.
"As you guys know, I'm a team guy," reiterated Markkanen. "I understand it. What was this, my second game off the bench? So the rhythm of the game is a little bit different. I trust Billy. He had his reasons. I haven't questioned him the whole year. I feel like we're all competitors and you always want to start. I feel like that's how everybody feels. I know I'm a starter in this league. But I'm a team guy and I'm gonna play my role. I know coach has a lot to handle with the new guys coming, and so it's gonna be an adjustment. I know I'm a starter here and I'm gonna control what I can control."
Markkanen shot the ball well and had 13 points in 22 minutes. Starters Patrick Williams and Tomas Satoransky each had 14 points as the Bulls shot 52 percent, but were six of 24 on threes and committed 20 turnovers. No surprise there as it's both been a season long issue and predictable with five new players.
"Tonight was better than the first game," insisted Vucevic. ‘We'll take that as a positive and we'll grow as a team as well. Obviously, we miss Coby. And Zach didn't play toward the end. But having Daniel (Theis with six points and two blocks) is great. He can help us on that (defensive) end a lot. We all need to figure it out and get comfortable with each other. But I think there were positives. You'll always want to build on those. Also, we played two very good teams. We also missed a lot from the three tonight. So we maybe make some of those threes it's a different game."
Donovan clearly is thinking this through and figures to make several changes again and perhaps continually.
But while the ball movement was efficient in the first half, paradoxically the lineup change also seemed to diminish Young, who had 10 points with two assists and three turnovers. Donovan said his equation was that putting Vucevic and Young together would enable them to play off one another and provide similar options for Markkanen with the more defensive oriented Theis. But there are often those inauspicious unintended consequences with so many other ball handlers in the starting lineup. Young began drifting out to the perimeter like he did last season when he was ineffective.
Lauri Markkanen scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in the loss against Golden State.
And then Markkanen playing with a lack of facilitator produced a stagnant second unit. It was that unit on the floor while the Warriors kept their starters in who changed the game at the end of the third quarter.
"We had a drought at the end of the third and start of the fourth where I don't know what it was, like a 19-5 or 19-7 run (16-7 to end the third and 21-7 overall) that really opened up the game for them," noted Donovan. "But it was really just more: How do we get some rim protection and how do we get some defense and guys to coexist on offense and both ends."
Donovan, understandably, without much practice time has to do his experimenting during the game. But Young might make more sense with the Bulls best catch-and-shoot player in Markkanen. And Theis with the starters to provide that defensive force. Though it's mostly guessing from game to game for now.
It's much easier to second guess after losses.
"Our team has changed," acknowledged Donovan. "We have four really unique and good front court players, certainly at the power forward and center spots. I just thought that Lauri is a guy who because of his ability to shoot and his skill level can play with any one of those three guys. And I thought from an experience standpoint and physicality standpoint throwing Thad in there because of the way Vooch can spread the floor, it allows those guys to kind of play off each other. And it's the same thing with Daniel and Lauri. Daniel is a guy around the basket a little bit more, a lot more playing at the front of the rim. Lauri has the ability to stretch it. I was just trying to mix and match."
It did make sense.
But Donovan did concede, "The one thing I wish I had got a little more of a look at---we did it a little bit and it seemed to be OK---was playing Daniel and Vooch together. Vooch can shoot it and Daniel can play close to the basket. It's just more making sure we have the proper spacing and teams aren't loaded up and we can open up the floor a little more and create space for those guys individually."
There's a lot more than goes into it to get what you want to come out of it.
Perhaps it wasn't the best plan because no one does it like the Warriors, but the Bulls were playing them shot for shot and break for break in the first half. Sure, Curry was back, but Klay Thompson was injured and Kevin Durant was in Brooklyn. So give it a try.
The Bulls looked good doing it with Vucevic scoring or assisting on every basket as the Bulls had 12 points in the first five minutes. The problem was Golden State had 16.
"We were playing good," said LaVine. "I thought we had a good first half. Obviously, if I could have contributed a little bit more, I think we would've been in a great position."
It was entertaining. Theis came in and was flying around for a few blocks, though the Warriors led 34-29 after one quarter. LaVine got a little going in the second quarter with a three, a short pullup and passing to Markkanen for a score. The Bulls edged ahead 43-41 and went shot for shot with the Warriors until three minutes left in the second when Vucevic passed to Satoransky for a three and a 52 tie. It was 65-60 Golden State at halftime even as the Warriors made six more threes. But even with their Oubre and Bazemore types, you still don't want to shoot it out with those guys.
Center Daniel Theis finishing an alley-oop plus the foul during his Bulls debut.
"It's tough against a team like that where if you don't go down and score two or three times in a row, they come down and make some shots," said LaVine. "In the early beginning, I thought we looked a lot more comfortable with each other. We've just got to get better. Obviously, you see the talent out there. But obviously we didn't get the job done."
The Bulls were still answering well into the third quarter, trailing 80-78 after a couple of Patrick William jumpers. Williams then threw a pass out of bounds that started a series of possessions with mostly those reserve guys not particularly comfortable with that Bulls identity. Donovan rushed LaVine back late in the third, but the Bulls already were behind double digits. LaVine committed an offensive foul.
"He did not appear to be moving at the rate that I think he normally does," admitted Donovan. "Bu He's not the kind of guy—and I respect this—his whole thing is, ‘If I suit up and step across the lines, I'm playing and there's no excuses when you play.' Do I think he's (ailing)? Yes, I do."
It was 96-85 Warriors and with five straight Warriors points to open the fourth quarter, much too far behind to make a difference with LaVine getting pulled and Vucevic trying to be the good teammate. Get nasty, Vooch!
"I expect to continue to grow as a team," said Vucevic. "Hopefully get to the playoffs this year. That will be a big step for us. Something we can build on. This group still has a lot of young players who can grow and hopefully I can help with all the other older guys. It would be a huge step for this team to get to the playoffs and play some meaningful games and build upon that."