Bulls Struggle to Fight Through Adversity, Fall to Nets in Brooklyn

Basketball is often seen as a ballet, at least when performed by the best of them, a panoply of precise movements to reveal a dramatic story. It can be poetry in its form and imagery; sometimes even in its despair. Sort of like the Bulls 104-87 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Monday.

How do they lose to them? Let us count the ways.
They lose to them with the lack of team play
With one pass and a shot while the Nets displayed a
Clinic in unselfish ball movement.
They lose to them with a lack of defensive rotation
With pick and roll protection a mystery of indifference.
They lose to them without enough commitment
By getting dunked upon and outhustled.

“You have to keep playing through the tough times and we did not do that well tonight,” observed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

And so with apologies to those who enjoy elegant basketball and appreciate the well intentioned stanza, this game in Brooklyn was probably best expressed by onomatopoeia with the Bulls sputtering, scraping and then going splat! Perhaps a bit of a retch in there as well.

“I know we’ll bounce back,” said Lauri Markkanen.

The positives were that there was a bit of a bounce from All-Star hangovers with Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls with the lay-up against the Brooklyn Nets

Dunn with his mid range shot working well led the Bulls with 23 points on nine of 15 shooting. Markkanen, two of 16 shooting coming out of the break, had 19 points and better shooting opportunities. The Bulls sought him out early this time and he had six points in the first quarter on three of four shooting.

But the poor first and third quarter starts persisted with the Bulls trailing by 10 points seven minutes into the game and then after taking their only lead of the game late in the second quarter to halftime at 51-49, there was an awful third quarter stretch in which Nets rookie Jarrett Allen had a spectacular dunk over Markkanen. Markkanen tried to answer with his own dunk and was fouled, the Bulls competitiveness, however, rising in that sequence. David Nwaba then fouled Allen hard when he was trying to dunk again, drawing a flagrant foul. The dizzying sequence saw the Nets turn a two-point lead with nine minutes to go in the third quarter to 13 within three minutes.

The Nets then led 84-70 after three quarters and by double digits and as many as 22 throughout the fourth quarter.

No other Bulls starters scored in double digits. Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds and Denzel Valentine had 11 points and 13 rebounds, but on four of 16 shooting. Which was hardly the poorest for the Bulls. Justin Holiday back in the starting lineup with Zach LaVine sitting out because there is a back to back Tuesday in Charlotte shot one of 11 for four points.

“We didn’t hold up our end; we didn’t do our job,” said Holiday. “You try to play as hard as you can and give it everything you’ve got. Obviously, I wanted the game to go a little differently.”

Cameron Payne shot one of 10 and with Holiday they were zero for nine on threes. The Bulls were six of 23 overall on threes. The Nets made 16 threes and despite playing primarily small lineups dominated the Bulls in inside scoring as the Bulls routinely failed to take advantage of their size advantage and pumped away outside shots. Noah Vonleh did give the Bulls another good defensive rebounding look with eight in 15 minutes while also showing a willingness as a backup center to shoot. Portis was the principal Bulls big man who attempted to score from the post. Markkanen did have a few strong inside moves with dunks and a follow to complement him.

“The best thing we’ve got is our transition basketball and we’re not seeing a lot of it right now,” lamented Hoiberg. “We weren’t getting out with the same aggressiveness in transition. I was really pleased with how we finished the second quarter. End of the first half was great and then we came out so sluggish with no energy and the adversity hit and we got stagnant.

The Bulls dropped to 20-40. The Nets are 20-41. Their draft pick goes to Cleveland from the Kyrie Irving trade.

This is the experimental part of the schedule for the Bulls with Felicio and Nwaba in the starting lineup and Payne off the bench. Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez again didn’t play. Holiday started, but likely will return to the non playing role Tuesday in Charlotte with LaVine’s return. Paul Zipser was out with a foot problem.

Jahlil Okafor didn’t play for the Nets with an illness as he tries to work himself in after the trade from the 76ers. The Nets got 21 points from Allen Crabbe and 18 each from Allen and DeMarre Carroll. Former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie, who defeated Markkanen in the finals of the All-Star skills competition, had five points and a game high nine assists. But he also had the leading plus/minus in the game at plus-26.

It was that passing by the Nets that mostly separated the teams.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn & Cristiano Felicio of the Chicago Bulls

Perhaps it’s because of the changes in the lineup; perhaps it’s because of the new rotations; perhaps it’s because of the tryout essence of much of this part of the season. Whatever the reason, the Bulls often have played selfish basketball. They tend since the return from the All-Star break to take a quick shot after one pass or simply just dribble around and shoot. It was most obvious compared with the Nets, who made multiple passes on most possessions, used their quickness to drive, kick the ball out and rotate for the better shot. It was a vivid contrast to what the Bulls were doing.

The Nets had five or six passes on some possessions; the Bulls seemed to have five or six passes some quarters. The Bulls seemed to be seeing Nets everywhere, though they had trouble finding the nets.

The Nets had 31 assists; the Bulls had 17 with Dunn high with four. Three of the five Nets starters had more than four assists each.

Plus the defense on pick and roll, especially, as well as rotation remained uncertain. It’s understandable with so many new players suddenly in the rotation. Though the team is committed to determining whether they can or should remain in the rotation. And how else can they find out?

“They were missing on the pick and roll, so I just tried to get out,” said Allen in explaining how he was able to get those wide open lanes for dunks. “We tried to outrun them and play with more physicality.”

It was a plan the Timberwolves employed well Saturday, also, the Bulls yielding more than 100 points in the paint in the last two games combined.

Felicio got a few things going to start, finishing a nice roll and lob from Dunn as Dunn seemed more energetic and engaged than the previous two games. He was aggressive to his mid range spot over the screens and disruptive on defense. But still careless with the ball with four turnovers. Markkanen was his most comfortable since the All-Star weekend, popping open for an early three and then going hard to the basket.

“I think my teammates did a really good job in the first half, especially getting me in the right spots,” said Markkanen. “I’m glad I got a couple to go.”

Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls with the dunk against the Brooklyn Nets

Though there was discussion of that so called “rookie wall” or All-Star fatigue, it seemed more that teammates with the new rotations simply were unable or unwilling to work the ball enough to get Markkanen good shots. There were more appealing opportunities Monday.

That late second quarter run with a Markkanen slam dunk out of a post move, a Dunn driving three-point play, a Nwaba three and late Valentine and Dunn jumpers seemed encouraging as the Bulls took that 51-49 halftime lead. But they gave it up quickly in the third quarter and then seemed like the props holding the scoring signs for an Allen dunk contest as the Nets had the ball hopping around like it was in a popcorn machine.

The Bulls, however, seemed just pooped.