Bulls stand tall against the Kings, 113-106
"Just glad to get back to winning. We need to start getting it going before it gets too late." - Zach LaVine
Markkanen and LaVine combine for 9 of 15 behind the stripe to pick up the win.
You mean those Bulls.
Yeah, the Bulls with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen making the crucial fourth quarter plays for victory, like Monday's 113-106 Bulls win in Sacramento. First Markkanen and LaVine making back to back threes to maintain a Bulls double digit lead in the fourth quarter.
But then in an all too familiar scenario, the opponent coming hard, the Kings in this case closing a 13-point fourth quarter Bulls lead to two. When Markkanen takes advantage of Kings switches in consecutive possessions to draw fouls, making four consecutive free throws. And then after a Kings miss, Kris Dunn, who'd run the pick and rolls to free Markkanen, drives and finds LaVine patiently waiting on the left wing for a three pointer and 107-100 lead with 1:15 left. That this time was enough breathing room for a welcome sigh of relief.
It was the first time this season the duo whom the Bulls counted on to be dynamic each scored at least 20 points in the same game, LaVine with 28 and Markkanen with 20. They combined to make nine of 15 threes and were supported nobly by Tomas Satoransky with 14 points, Wendell Carter Jr. with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and a reserve injection that in the first half was mostly responsible for a 31-6 run that gave the Bulls the look of royals.
"What I'm encouraged about is if you look at the box score, that's how we envisioned this group of guys to look, contributions from everybody and a real solid game from Zach, a real solid game from Lauri, a double/double from Wendell, Sato gets 14 and five," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "That's what we hope it can be and we hope it can be that way more consistently. That's what we hoped to have and I know they hoped to have it, too."
The Bulls only raised their record to 7-14. And though we've heard it before, they now have an opportunity with home games this week against cellar dwellers Memphis and Golden State.
Cellar dwelling Golden State? Charlotte?
I thought we played a pretty solid game. We always talk about doing your job; it's just that simple.
"Just glad to get back to winning," said LaVine. "We need to start getting it going before it gets too late. We said that with Charlotte (turnaround game after LaVine's 13 three pointers). Hopefully, it gives us a little spark. We have to defend home court. We haven't been doing that very well. Hopefully we can get a couple at home and get this going."
It's something Bulls players have said before, so no one was celebrating too much. But this sort of game, even against an undermanned 8-11 Sacramento team, resembled why there was so much optimism last summer about this season. It appeared as if LaVine and Markkanen now supported by experienced veterans with a rookie like Coby White (11 points and three of six threes) and a deep bench could be the kind of team to get into serious playoff contention and perhaps a few notches better in the Eastern standings.
It didn't turn out that way to start with Markkanen's basically season long slump and Boylen's series of mad scientist rotations, perhaps the overreaction of a first time NBA head coach with heavy expectations from a hopeful community.
But as much as the players seemed to settle in Monday, so did Boylen as the starters all played at least 30 minutes for the first time (Markkanen rounded to 30) and all stayed in to finish the game, giving a peaceful conclusion and familiarity a chance.
The players also improvised a little from their structured mandate of hitting the paint with a drive and finding someone for a three. Markkanen said he and LaVine talked before the game about getting into pick and roll more often, and also between the two.
"Zach has been doing his part," Markkanen agreed. "We talked about playing our game. We ended up being in a couple of pick and rolls more than we'd been this year. We talked about it before the game, try to do that more; we've kind of gotten away from that."
Satoransky, especially, probed in the lane and had a crucial fourth quarter score and six fourth quarter points and three assists. Plus an especially big one for a Markkanen three when the Kings made their first run of the quarter to get within 92-86 with 7:03 left. A 19-point Bulls lead was about to be another can't-believe-it loss in a familiar rerun.
But then Carter rebounded a Markkanen miss and LaVine shot faked his way to a three. And then Markkanen made those two crucial drives that led to free throws and LaVine the clinching three. LaVine would close it out with free throws with the Kings fouling in vain.
"We took them lightly. We didn't respect them enough," said the Kings Buddy Hield, who had 26 points.
That might be understandable the way the Kings opened the game with a an easy driving dunk by Harrison Barnes and quick 11-point lead, 12-4 Sacramento in the first four minutes even without De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley. Though since the Kings are working on the league's longest non-playoffs streak of 13 years, you'd think they wouldn't take anyone lightly. Yes, rebuilding can be tough.
The Bulls believed this season could be an added support to that building project with even a working model to admire. It hasn't been that way in a jumble of personnel, playing rotations, some injuries (Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison remained out) and especially Markkanen's displacement.
Underperforming teams like the Bulls always are looking for that moment, the game to look back on, the turnaround. Carrying a three-game losing streak and losing both on this trip, the Bulls weren't about to declare the runway to success now straightforward. So for now it was at least a positive lurch forward.
"I think we can build on this," said Markkanen. "We had a couple of stretches we didn't play as well. But I thought we played a pretty solid game. We always talk about doing your job; it's just that simple."
It looked only similar to start the game as the Kings took advantage of the Bulls defensive plan to trap the pick and roll. The Bulls have been weak to rotate when the screener rolls to the basket. The Kings took advantage to roll out to a 23-12 lead. Apparently that's when Hield ordered pizza.
LaVine was holding it together with five straight points when Boylen went with a reserve group that included rarely used Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford, who both would be vital contributors. The reserves closed the quarter with a 10-0 run, and suddenly to start the second quarter the Bulls were leading. Valentine made a three, and so did White and Ryan Arcidiacono. The Bulls were 16 of 37 on threes and the Kings nine of 33.
The starters took the baton and didn't drop it this time, maintaining a 55-44 halftime lead as Markkanen appeared more certain shooting his three and pump faked and drove for a slam dunk late in the first half.
"They (reserves) brought us back," noted Markkanen. "We didn't do as well in the beginning. The second unit brought the energy and brought us back and we picked it up from there. I don't want to be one dimensional and just shoot threes. That's what I've kind of been. Been trying to find my spots and it's been a lot of threes. Glad I got to the rim a couple of times."
Markkanen kept it going this time, taking a rebound full court starting with a behind the back dribble and then a hit at the basket and finishing early in the third quarter.
"When he gets on a roll then they have to guard the whole floor," LaVine said about Markkanen. "We know how good he is and how good he can be and he shouldn't be in a slump that long. We need to help him get out of it and I don't think we did a good job of that. We did a little more two-man game and finding him early. But once he made his first two, it started looking back to the old Lauri. Hopefully it's wheels up from there."
The starters pushed it ahead 73-56 and the Bulls still led 84-74 after three quarters. Boylen also was adept at staggering starters with reserves so as not to leave those non-scoring, defense-mostly reserve groups out who have had the long scoring droughts.
It still became another fourth quarter scare. But more of the variety of every team makes a run rather than every team runs over the Bulls.
"We played really good D throughout the first three quarters," said LaVine. "They got it going a little bit in the fourth. We had some breakdowns, but we made some timely shots and got to the free throw line. So it was a good overall game from us. We all did our part and we finally got one in the fourth; we never let that lead up. We do our job more consistently we know we can be a good team."
And perhaps that special tandem so many envisioned.
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