Bulls struggle defending Curry's hot shooting, fall to 8-4

Zach LaVine led Chicago with 23 points but the rest of the team struggled as Warriors took the 119-93 win.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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I wouldn't exactly call it adversity, though DeMar DeRozan did, Friday's 119-93 Golden State Warriors demolition of the Bulls to open the five-game Western Conference road trip.

"It's really our first adversity and that's where adversity builds a lot of character," said DeRozan. "So I'm pretty sure we are going to look at a lot of film tomorrow and figure out what we can do and what we can be better at next game (Sunday against the Clippers and Monday against the Lakers). It's a great learning experience for us. We got out butts whooped. Now, how do we respond?"

Nikola Vucevic, back home in the NBA health and safety protocols, was missed, the Bulls with large deficits in rebounding and assists. So that should end the trade suggestions. Coby White, soon to return from injury, was also missed with limited offense from the reserves. So that should also end the trade suggestions.

The Bulls slipped to 8-4, still a half game out of first place in the Eastern Conference, and with Stephen Curry scoring 40 ho hum points it perhaps was no great shame to lose to the surprisingly best team in the NBA, the 11-1 Warriors. Even without Klay Thompson. Yeah, Kevin Durant, too.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 23 points and shot an enviable 10 of 17. But he didn't much need the respect the Warriors showed with traps, double teams and even a box and one for long stretches, the latter defense usually saved for your Jordan or Kobe. LaVine committed seven turnovers.

DeRozan also earned respect for joining LaVine as the only two teammates in the NBA averaging more than 25 points. The Warriors stuffed his favorite spots and sent size and help, DeRozan getting his 18 points with four of 18 shooting.

"They made a conscientious effort to double team (LaVine) all over the place," noticed Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "They made a conscientious effort to really go after Demar and they really were, ‘You know what, these two guys are not beating us. You guys are going to have to beat us someplace else.' That's what happened tonight."

DeMar DeRozan shoots a fallaway jumper over Stephen Curry

DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points but struggled with 4-of-13 shooting against the Warriors.

Which led Donovan to begin a conversation that I heard often during the nascent climb of Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the late 1980s, flirting with 50-win seasons if not elite level play.

It went something like this: "Michael, you've got to trust these guys, move the ball, pass and let them shoot."

Jordan's response was some variation of, "Hey, I've got a better chance of scoring against a double team than Granville Waiters, Charles Davis, Mike Brown (pick your favorite 80s Bull) alone in an empty gym."

Jordan did sort of have a point, and it all began to change when Jordan was joined by All-Star level teammates like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, and reserve players who would also become All-Stars and top players like B.J. Armstrong and later Toni Kukoc.

Because it's not going to be difficult to guess the film discussion at Saturday's practice Bulls practice in Los Angeles.

LaVine with 10 points was most of the offense to start, a 29-23 first quarter Bulls lead highlighted by a continuation of the hustling and relentless defensive efforts that enabled the Bulls to rise to the top of the standings and land on the lips of admiring commentators (ESPN listed the Bulls third in their weekly power ratings).

Zach LaVine shoots over Steph Curry on Friday night.

Zach LaVine finished the game with 23 points against the Warriors on Friday night.

Alex Caruso doing his impression of the offspring of Norm Van Lier and Kirk Hinrich closed the quarter twice running Curry off shots (who does that?) and forcing a pass to a miss, Javonte Green's fortuitous late double forcing the fifth Warriors turnover in seven possessions, Alize Johnson flopping on the floor so much for loose balls the seals at Pier 39 were impressed. Caruso ran around three Warriors to steal a jump ball, young Warriors players like Jordan Poole who had been scoring so easily weren't so much anymore forcing shots.

Though there was that annoying Curry and the Warriors easing ahead 51-45 at halftime with the Bulls getting the last score on a LaVine steal for a Lonzo Ball runway dunk, though just one of his two baskets in 11 attempts in a tough shooting game.

"Our defense at the start of the game was pretty good," agreed Donovan. "It was a low scoring game; we did a pretty good job there. They played some box and one on Zach; they trapped Zach a lot. I thought Zach in a lot of ways made that pocket pass; we just didn't really make shots or make plays from those spots."

So the inevitable happened as the Warriors got Curry open for a three to start the third quarter, and as Donovan also noted, "It was like a slow death after that."

Steph Curry pumps up the home crowd against the Bulls on Friday night.

Stephen Curry shows why he is one of the league's all-time best scorers, dropping 40 points on 15-of-24 shooting on Friday night.

There were all sorts of funereal misses from all sorts of places, and suddenly it was 70-51 Warriors midway through the third quarter. Zach to the rescue? DeMar to the rescue? Not this time with the Warriors still crowding him and DeRozan, the Warriors about to make it nine straight over the Bulls and 86-62 going into the fourth quarter. It got to 96-69 Golden State early in the fourth before LaVine and DeRozan did score in six of seven consecutive possessions with one for G-leaguer Tyler Cook in his Bulls scoring debut.

So Zach, DeMar, get it to Tyler, or Ayo, or Javonte or Derrick. And just be ready to get back on defense?

Donovan's basketball philosophy is sound. But is it realistic in the NBA with scorers like LaVine and DeRozan? Especially without not only Vucevic's scoring, which has been coming the last two games, but his clever passing, size and floor spacing.

Donovan lamented the Bulls losing the offensive boards badly, 9-3 in the first half. But the Warriors front line with 6-9 Kevin Looney and Draymond Green at power forward is not bigger than the Bulls'. The Bulls did commit an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers for 24 Warriors points. But then comes the conundrum with a deficit. Trust the pass? Trust the stars?

"We have to obviously learn to play without Vucevic; just the way it is," said Donovan. "It's going to be a little bit different and we are going to have to figure that out. This was a good game against a good team to learn from this of where we have to get better and how we have to improve.

"They went on a little bit of a run and it got to double digits and then I thought we lost our way," Donovan admitted. "Zach was really trying to play the right way. He was throwing it into the pocket; he kind of gave himself up for the team. But then it gets to a point as a player you sit there and say, ‘You know what, I have to try to do something.' For Zach and DeMar with Vooch not being here there's going to have to be even more sacrifice in terms of moving and cutting and trusting the pass; a lot of times it's going to end up in someone's hands. We're going to have to trust the pass and trust each other.

"DeMar, I thought, got to his spots and just didn't make shots like he normally has done," said Donovan. "Zach, I thought, was relatively hot, started off well. But if a team is going to sell out to take somebody away like that, we're going to have to be able to say ‘You know what, I'm going to have to do this.'

"What happens when you are doing (the right thing) and it is not going well at that particular time and it feels like it's getting away from you, any great player I've ever been around always tries to take matters into their own hands and I kind of respect that. Zach was trying to win," Donovan pointed out. "I don't fault him in any way; he was making the right play. But it was not leading to points. So then it was, ‘I have to try to do something.' With his greatness he made some tough shots. But he can't do that for 36 minutes a night and expect us to win. He started to do that the early part of his career and it's just not going to work. We all have to work together better."

Tap to listen to Billy Donovan's postgame press conference following Chicago's loss to Golden State.

It sounds simple, but it was difficult for Doug Collins and Phil Jackson. OK, so Zach and DeMar are not Michael Jordan. But they are two of the leading scorers in the NBA.

At least it should be interesting.

The Warriors are smart and experienced, and with Thompson due to return mid season they actually should be a title threat again in this more equal opportunity NBA. Especially without Vucevic's shooting threat, passing and size—Tony Bradley started, but played just 13 minutes and had three points and five rebounds—the Warriors were able to extend their defenses to LaVine and DeRozan. They also were quick to pressure Ball more. Ball did have four steals as he continued to defend. The Warriors defensive rotations were excellent as they made sure to keep size on DeRozan with Looney helping and often Andrew Wiggins and had their best individual defender, Gary Payton II, chase LaVine while they stayed in a box zone. The Warriors also kept hands on the dribbles, not unaware that LaVine has that bandaged thumb. Otto Porter Jr. did get hurt again, but actually returned for a bit in a bit of a surprise.

Despite the Golden State rebounding edge, Donovan again defaulted to the smaller lineups, apparently to manufacture steals and turnovers for fast breaks to offset the size differential. It didn't have much effect this time as Golden State had 15 steals to nine for the Bulls and 18-7 on fast break points. Despite Donovan's concern about offensive rebounds, the Bulls led in second chance points.

Zach can't do it himself, of course, but neither can a team count on defense, defense, defense against so much NBA offensive firepower.

"They definitely mixed it up on us, kinda boxed-and-one Zach when he was out there by himself, kinda just switched everything on me," said DeRozan. "Couldn't get downhill, couldn't find no angles. We knew it was going to be tough without Vooch, one of our best bigs, best playmaker.

"You go out there and wish you could play perfect for 82 games; happens," DeRozan acknowledged with a shrug. "Can't get too high, can't get too low. Got to take the good with the bad, the bad with the good and just keep pushing, move on to L.A. We played the best team in the NBA. We played great the first half defensively, we was scrambling, moving around. But we have to sustain that. Tonight was a new challenge that we got to face and understand for the next few games we aren't going to have Vooch. So how are we gonna manage? How we going to figure that out and come together as a collective?"

With the pass? Pass it on.

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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