Bulls start slow against Cavs, fall 121-105 on the road

The Bulls turned the ball over 20 times and struggled against Cleveland's physicality on Wednesday night.
by Sam Smith
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The Bulls couldn't get much going offensively and had trouble with ball security as their two-game win streak was snapped with a 121-105 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night. Chicago's largest deficit of the night was 33. The Bulls (24-34) will look to bounce back on Thursday night at home against the Charlotte Hornets (28-29).

The Bulls 121-105 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday was so bad it would have made Alfred E. Neuman worry. Thad Young, too.

"You do worry when you play like this," Young admitted about not only losing to the 21-37 Cavs but falling behind by 22 points in the first quarter and later by 33. "We've got to toss this one out the window and be ready to step on the court tomorrow (against Charlotte). But yeah, it does worry you a little bit when you come out flat and you don't impose your will on games that you need at this point in time in the season."

That's because with the loss to drop to 24-34, the Bulls fell to 12th place in the Eastern Conference in the race for the last play-in spots. Streaking Washington a game ahead of the Bulls moved into 10th place ahead of Toronto. Ninth place Indiana moved three games ahead of the Bulls with 14 games remaining.

And now the road becomes even more hazardous as the Bulls have the sixth most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA and now play teams with winning records in seven of the next nine games including consecutive games this weekend in Miami and then onto New York to play the league's hottest team. The Bulls also have two games each remaining with East leaders Brooklyn and Milwaukee and one with Philadelphia. The Bulls, according to Clutch Points, are 5-22 against teams with winning records and 19-12 against teams with sub.-500 records.

Thad Young

Thad Young scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

So it was no time not only to lose to the Cavaliers, but not even be in the neighborhood of competitive.

Cristiano Felicio was in the game with almost nine minutes left as the Bulls trailed one of the league's poorest teams by 22 points after one quarter, by 17 at halftime and by 27 after three quarters. And that coming after an 11-5 close to the third. The teams then opened the fourth quarter celebrating the new NBA by running from arc to arc to shoot only three pointers, the Bulls with five threes in their first seven attempts and the Cavs seven of their first eight.

Who knew a 33-point deficit could become uglier? They let fans into the Cavs arena for the first time. They needed masks over their eyes for that.

"We certainly dug ourselves a huge hole," noticed Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "We didn't really do anything well enough on either end of the floor. I thought they were the aggressor right from the start. I thought we were back on our heels both offensively and defensively. I thought their guards were able to get off screens and get downhill and put a lot of pressure on the basket. And then I thought defensively they were very disruptive of how they guarded us and how physical they were. I think that's what led to the number of turnovers that we had. Yeah, it was disappointing."

Billy Donovan speaks with the media following Chicago's disappointing loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night.

But they still had their health. Well, most of it as Zach LaVine remained out for the Covid protocols. Oh right, bad time to be missing those 28 points. It's not appearing, as some suggested after the Bulls went 2-1 in LaVine's absence, that it will be a positive. Newcomer Troy Brown Jr. also was out with an ankle injury sustained against Boston Monday.

Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 16 points, making four of five threes in what most closely resembled taking the game seriously. Young and Coby White each had 14 points and Tomas Satoransky added 13. The Bulls committed 20 turnovers which the Cavaliers turned into 23 points and Cleveland shot 51 percent. They looked so good Joakim Noah might even thought of vacationing there.

But mostly it was the Cavaliers little guards, Collin Sexton with 30 points and Darius Garland with 25, who absolutely shredded and dominated the Bulls backcourt and perimeter. Both played with what seemed a hoop IPass, getting into the lane with almost no resistance and then throwing lob after lob to the Cavs centers.

The Bulls had badly outplayed the Cavaliers last Saturday, the first of consecutive games the Bulls held the opponent under 100 points. It looks now like something of a defensive mirage. Donovan was calling a timeout less than three minutes in to address the lobs dunk scores. But perhaps more worrisome was the way the Bulls collapsed under the defensive pressure the Cavaliers guards applied, bodying up into the Bulls guards and forcing quick shots and errant passes. The Bulls committed seven first quarter turnovers, and with the pressure missed all eight of their first quarter threes. The 34-12 Cavs lead was the Bulls fewest points for a quarter this season.

Why now with just 14 games remaining?

"I think we kind of eased into the game and they took it to us," said Vucevic, whose streak of more than 100 double digit scoring games ended with nine points and five turnovers. "We just never could respond and we got a little frustrated with the refereeing that affected us a little bit. We just didn't bring the focus and energy needed to play an NBA game.

Nikola Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic has arguably his worst outing as a Bull so far, scoring nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in the loss.

"When I started the game, I didn't let the game develop and come to me," Vucevic admitted. "I kind of forced a little bit. Maybe we should have slowed the game down a little bit and maybe tried to get some easy ones and work the offense a little bit more. We didn't do that. Especially with me, I took a couple quick shots and if you don't make those, it turns into easy fast break points."

And off went the Cavs.

Perhaps more worrisome is the Bulls didn't quit. The Cavs just were much better. Yes, those Cavs. You can't win them all even against teams with poor records. They're all NBA players, as we often are told, and they can get hot shooting. But no one should be that much better. Certainly no one 16 games under .500.

The Bulls did come back within a dozen points late in the second quarter, thus certainly early enough to outplay the poor start. But then the Cavaliers appeared to take them seriously again, scoring the last five points of the first half and then 15-7 to start the second half to run their lead quickly back to 25.

"We're supposed to impose our will on the game a little bit earlier," said Young. "I think we're feeling our way into the games. And we're not that type of team where we can feel our way into games. We have to come out aggressive from the start. I always preach to the guys: 'Impose our will early in the game. First five minutes. Set the tone for us throughout the course of a game.' Tonight those guys imposed their will before we did. We're walking into games sometimes on cruise control. We don't have a team where we can walk out there and, like, 'Oh, let me see how they're playing me today.' We need to walk into games saying, ‘Oh, I'm about to go at this guy.' Every single game from this point on counts."

Because there are not very many.

Neuman is the fictitious gap-toothed coverboy of the outrageous Mad humor magazine. The character's famous ‘What, me worry? phrase was attributed to an early appearance in a dentistry advertisement. I know it helped ease my fears. Once in the magazine's history the character appeared saying, ‘Yes, me worry." It was after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. With a meltdown like the Bulls experienced Wednesday, you may have to worry a little.

Got a question for Sam?

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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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