Bulls suffer blowout loss to Warriors, fall to 27-13

Chicago struggled after guard Zach LaVine left the game early in the first quarter and did not return.
by Sam Smith
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The Bulls Friday lost 138-96 to the Golden State Warriors minus Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was the Bulls third loss in their last four games, the three losses by an average of 30 points each to drop the Bulls into the bottom half of the NBA defensively. The consecutive games both moved to national TV because of the Bulls excellent play this season rank among the worst back to back home losses in franchise history and, according to ESPN which televised the game, it was the first time in NBA history a team first in its conference lost consecutive games by more than 25 points each. ESPN also reported the 42-point defeat for a first place team matched the worst such loss in the last 50 years.

And that wasn't even the worst part of Friday night.

No, the world didn't come to an end.

But the Bulls' almost did when just three minutes into the game, Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine pulled himself out of the game with what the Bulls said was a left knee injury.

LaVine is scheduled for an MRI exam Saturday to determine the extent of the injury. He is not traveling for Saturday's game in Boston. The Bulls play Monday afternoon in Memphis for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was five years ago in February that LaVine tore the ACL in his left knee. He since has made arguably the most remarkable comeback in NBA history from that devastating injury, his athleticism seemingly every bit as sensational as when he won two slam dunk contests.

"I don't know how severe it is or isn't," admitted Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "I think he came down from an offensive rebound and felt some discomfort. After that maybe he tried to play a little bit and was feeling some pain in his knee and didn't feel quite right. The MRI will tell a lot more. Kind of came down a little funny. He has some discomfort there now and they want to take a look; he didn't feel like he could return. It may have been both of them, the medical and him talking about that, not returning."

Zach LaVine and Klay Thompson speak pregame.

Zach LaVine, seen here speaking pregame with Warriors guard Klay Thompson, checked himself out of the game in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury and did not return.

That might have been enough to debilitate the team considering not only LaVine's contributions but the high regard his teammates have for him.

The Warriors had something to do with the final result, though not those Warriors you'd expect, which was also worrisome. The Bulls with help and attention held Stephen Curry to 19 points, 11 in the first half on eight shots. And the Bulls at the time were trailing by 31 points. Making it a lot of time to fill on the national broadcast.

It wasn't a very good introduction for the Bulls.

Who we and the United Center fans knows have been special most of this season, and still after Friday led the Eastern Conference with a 27-13 record

Which perhaps is why the low rumble at the end of the third quarter when the Bulls gave up another fast lane to the basket slam dunk to fall behind by 40 sounded almost like boos. These fans were perplexed. They wanted to boo at what they were seeing, but they'd fallen in love with this team and it's hustle hard work, enthusiasm and effort.

Little of which was in attendance Friday night.

"Just got our butts kicked two nights in a row; now it's about how we respond," said DeMar DeRozan, who had 17 points and seven assists, but also could do little to stop the avalanche from burying the Bulls national coming out party week.

Coby White off the bench led the Bulls with 20 points, Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 14 rebounds and Lonzo Ball had 15 points. But he was uncharacteristically poor with the ball, five first half turnovers that contributed to the Warriors' track meet for 14 first half fast break points. And this a Warriors team coming in losers of four of five on the second of a back to back after being blown out Thursday in Milwaukee when they trailed by 39 at halftime. Their halftime turnarounds, ESPN said, from 39 down to 31 ahead also was an all-time NBA record for the Warriors 10th straight win over the Bulls.

Lonzo Ball shoots over Warriors star Stephen Curry.

Lonzo Ball hit four three-pointers in the opening nine minutes of the game against Golden State.

The Warriors set season highs for points and shooting at 56 percent while Troy Brown starting for injured Alex Caruso and Javonte Green was scoreless in 27 minutes. Ayo Dosunmo off the bench was scoreless in 32 minutes. Warriors rookie Jonathan Kuminga led all scorers with 25 points off the bench.

"Playing Boston tomorrow, hostile environment. We're gonna see what we're made of," said DeRozan. "Nobody's gonna come and save the day; it's on us to go out there to step up. These two games should be all the motivation we need. It's another challenge we just have to face. We cannot complain about it, can't whine about it, can't look for no extra help; it's on us. It (wasn't) us (Friday night) offensively, defensively. That's not us. We got hit in the mouth two games in a row. It should suck, it should hurt, it should be disappointing, should be all those things. Now we have to figure out how to use that as motivation going into these next two games.

"We can't just sit back and think because we're at the top of our conference teams are going to lay down or we're just going to pull out wins," said DeRozan, who also has distinguished himself this season with his availability and class with media in good or bad times. "It's going to get harder and harder from here on out. Now we have to take it to the next level and that's the growing curve for us to really understand what the next level is like. It sucks being banged up, but who cares. At some point in the season every team is going to have the hump they've got to get over. I think we're at that point."

Certainly, the Bulls miss Caruso and Javonte Green, who with Ball have been the sparks to fire up the Bulls defensive engines with their steals, deflections and harassment. The Bulls were dominated on the boards 47-36 Friday by a smallish Warriors team playing harder. Though playing undersized all season, the Bulls haven't faced big rebounding defects because the steals, deflections and disturbances have led to fast breaks and better shots and offset any rebounding disadvantage.

Which also is not to suggest the Bulls might have won or been much closer with Caruso and Javonte Green. That was like some who said the Warriors in Milwaukee would have fared differently with Draymond Green and his 7.9 per game scoring average. Maybe been down 31 at half. Sure, players like that make a difference. Though not to overcome that sort of team letdown.

Though LaVine's heath remains the principal concern.

LaVine showed no signs of injury or anxiety when he rebounded a Vucevic miss with 8:57 left in the first quarter. LaVine moved to the right corner with the ball, then passed it back toward the middle where it was stolen by former Bull Otto Porter Jr. No one paid much attention to LaVine as the Warriors fired for a fast break dunk. Just a 14-10 lead. The next thing anyone knew LaVine was walking toward the locker room both under his own power and without any noticeable problem. The Bulls then issued a statement saying he would not return.

Was it a stink bug just caught in his knee wrap? Or something that stunk for he and the team?

"I don't know the severity of it; hopefully it's nothing too serious and we understand we've got to hold it down," said DeRozan. "Hopefully getting Alex back soon, Javonte getting closer to coming back. Hopefully it's nothing too serious with Zach."

The underlying disappointment was the community and the Bulls were anxious to show the basketball world what was going on with this surprise team that was so much fun to watch. Suddenly, TNT and ESPN prime time.

Hey, this is what we've been telling you about.

Against the teams many projected to meet in this season's Finals.

Mulligan?

It was noted by some as a measuring stick for the Bulls.

Instead it seems like they got the stick broken over their heads.

It hardly ruins this marvelous season or is an apocalyptic result; perhaps just a scar. Maybe even a blessing of sorts or inflection point to reshape the current curve. The players all season have talked about a grab bag of so called chips on their shared shoulders for the way so many felt overlooked, being undrafted, traded, low round picks, low balled. Living in a luxurious state of I'll Show You.

Recounting that game is only too painful.

The Warriors ran ahead 37-28 to end the first quarter with eight straight points. And then when the Bulls went four minutes early in the second quarter without a point amidst more turnovers and awkward misses, the Warriors 17-5 run to start the second quarter basically ended the game. It was apparent this time the team that never gave up gave in: 78-47 at halftime, 112-72 after three. Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Andrew Wiggins and Kuminga were the primary catalysts.

Actually, Donovan has seen this coming, which was why he was suggesting even as the Bulls were reeling off nine straight wins that there were defensive issues and sundry other concerns. Aesop Donovan wasn't crying wolf. He was seeing some straw and sticks in those Bulls fortifications.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan speaks to the media following the Bulls' lopsided loss to the Warriors on Friday night.

"We're struggling defensively," Donovan acknowledged. "We're going to have to figure a way to stop some of the bleeding defensively. Against Brooklyn, 95 of the 138 points came off second chance points, transition points, free throw line and layups, things we can control better than that. Clearly we are going to have to play harder; we are going to have to fight more. With Zach going out points are going to be more difficult to come by.

"It goes back to your habits," said Donovan. "You can't cure a bad habit in a timeout. You've got to build it over a period of time. Early in the year we were holding our own (with rebounding, transition, weak side help). We have to be better; we have to coach it better. I have to figure out ways how can I help the group because there may be things quite honestly I am asking them to do defensively man to man it may be hard for us to do. We may have to do some different things. Not taking anything away from DeMar's two incredible shots, but (without that) you drop those games. I saw some of this stuff habitually happening, and we have to find a way to become more disciplined on both ends of the floor."

And especially hope good news for Zach LaVine.

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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