It was almost a perfect day Sunday for Kris Dunn, the beleaguered Bulls point guard, who was making shots, cracking one liners and nullifying the opponent’s biggest threat, though in a more untraditional way. Almost, except perhaps for Dunn’s missed three-point attempt with 21.1 seconds left that could have sent the game to — oh no, not again! — overtime. Lauri Markkanen would also get a chance for a Bulls/Hawks encore overtime, though Markkanen missed a three with 11.4 seconds left, everyone assuming intentionally after Friday’s exhausting epoch extras as Atlanta got the split with a 123-118 victory.
“Four overtimes, when do you see that?” Dunn observed “That’s a kind of game everyone wants to be a part of and this game came down to the wire.”
But until that sour ending — except for draft lottery fans as the 18-46 Bulls regained their four-game separation from the Hawks for the fourth poorest record in the NBA — Dunn did all he could to help turn up the heat on the Hawks and leave them done.
Dunn, whose point guard status has been much speculated upon with uncertain play, made multiple three pointers for the first time this season, shooting 55 percent on threes the last three games, and again multiple steals. He had a dozen first half points with more intentions toward the basket than sideways. And then midway through the third quarter with the Hawks taking their biggest lead of the game at 78-62, Dunn got Hawks star rookie Trae Young ejected from the game with his second technical foul. Actually, Young, after his 49 points Friday and 18 points in 18 minutes Sunday, got himself ejected by referee Phenizee Ransom, apparently for turning hands on hips toward Dunn walking off the court and the Bulls bench after making another extra long three.
“My back was turned,” said Dunn. “Everyone said he got ejected. I was stunned by it myself as much as you guys were. I don't really know what happened, to be honest. I'll have to look at the film to see what went on. I wasn't upset. I just came off of a migraine, so I've got to figure that out.”
This has to be a new Bulls era. Kris Dunn is making jokes.
Sure, no one was that happy with the loss in the unusual 45-hour stretch concluding with the Sunday matinee. But with Otto Porter Jr. earning the “load management” holiday — the Bulls are now 6-2 when he plays and 0-2 when he doesn’t and could nominate him for most valuable — the Bulls got 19 points from Markkanen leading seven players in double figures, a nice bench contribution with 51 points and came back from that 16-point deficit to have several chances for bonus basketball.
“We hung in there,” said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. “Kris Dunn had a good look at a three. It looked like Lauri’s was a good three. We had a couple of opportunities to tie it up and just couldn’t get over the hump.”
There were some things to see here, though, like Antonio Blakeney’s 13 fourth quarter points, Cristiano Felicio with his first double digit scoring game of the season with 10, Ryan Arcidiacono with 13, his third consecutive scoring in double digits, 51 percent overall shooting, the Hawks probably continuing to lead the league in fouling three-point shooters, but also making 21 of 42 threes to keep the game just enough out of reach.
“I think today overall we were tired, but we should have fought through it,” said Zach LaVine, who had 12 points on three of nine shots after 47 points in the Friday quad. “I didn’t get going early enough. I just took three shots in the first half. I have to be a little more aggressive.”
The aggression apparently produced Young’s curious exit, though the Hawks did survive with 28 points and five threes from 7-1 Alex Len, perfect shooting from whoever B.J. Johnson is for 11 points in his NBA debut out of the G-league, and the Bulls just eight of 27 on threes. The Hawks actually scored 39 more points on threes than the Bulls, which could be a record in a five-point loss.
“It’s tough when you shoot 51 percent and lose,” agreed Boylen.
It’s even tougher when perhaps you come to see rookie Young, averaging 35 points and 11 assists the previous five games, and he gets thrown out for posing with his hands on his hips after making a three. It drew the quint taunting technical foul, which would have been no big deal. Except earlier in the game, again going into a timeout, Young walked by Dunn and swung his arm back at him, hitting him a glancing blow in his back. Dunn stopped and walked back toward Young and slapped him in the back of the head. Robin Lopez got in between, and the pair got the dreaded double technical.
Two technicals, as we know, means ejection. Yes, to paraphrase Charles Barkley, Bill Laimbeer has to be rolling over in his grave if that’s now an ejection.
“I play with a lot of flair, I play with a lot of energy, emotion, to have fun,” said Young, “I just hit a shot and just looked in the arena. I didn’t say anything. Just a look. I didn’t really say anything. I looked at someone and that was about it. I think people come to see people have fun, make plays and enjoy the excitement.”
No the fun police. If this is standard NBA policy, it’s difficult to believe Steph Curry and LeBron James with their daily antics could finish an NBA game anymore. Heck, Draymond Green might be going to prison. Though none of it seems particularly harmful or, to the point of all this, a provocation.
The NBA permits a pool reporter to ask three questions of an official if there is a controversial call.
This is what crew chief Mark Ayotte explained:
“The first technical foul was given during a dead ball during a timeout for physical contact. Each player made physical contact with each other, so double technical foul on both. After he (Young) made the jump shot, he stared down his opponent and was issued a taunting technical foul. Taunting is directed at an opponent specifically. Celebration is not directed at an opponent.”
Yes, that was five-foot nothing Trae Young who you’d find yelling, “Hold me back” and then running when no one would.
The Hawks were again without John Collins, their leading scorer, and yada, yadda, other Bulls were still hobbling around. But everyone gets weary mentioning that.
Heck, Cris Felicio not only made two jumpers, he attempted two in a quarter, an event we may tell our grandchildren about.
“I’m starting to get comfortable taking jump shots,” Felicio said. “It is something I can do, but I don’t do as much because we have other guys that do that. I just have to start doing that because it is going to open more space for them, or take some of the pressure they have.”
Shoot, Cris, shoot.
You don’t have to tell Blakeney twice, though he’d barely played except for a few seconds in one of the last 11 games. The Bulls in the first half looked on defense like a team coming off a four-overtime game. So did the Hawks in the 67-60 Atlanta first half. But the Bulls attempt twos when the Hawks take threes. The Bulls shot better overall, but Atlanta made 11 threes in the half to four for the Bulls. Someone’s not doing their math homework.
Then Young went into his runway model hands-on-hips pose and all heck broke loose.
Markkanen converted the technical foul and someone told LaVine the game had started as he made a driving dunk and a pair of fast break layups, one off his own steal, Arcidiacono skied for a block (perhaps some hyperbole there) and going into the fourth quarter the Bulls were trailing 96-91.
LaVine goes baseline for the big slam
“Were down 16 and fought our way back and had the opportunities to take the game to overtime, but we were not able to make plays,” said Markaknen.” Have to give them credit; they were making a lot of shots and playing well. Felicio was really good and Blakeney came off the bench and kept us in it.”
The oft-forgotten Lou Williams lite can be erratic, but has a unique ability to score on a mid range pullup. Since analytics experts have decided that shot can cause cancer, it’s much condemned. But Blakeney, nevertheless, tried it and scored in four of six Bulls possessions to help trim an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to 118-117 with 1:14 left.
“When I get in rhythm I can kind of get on a roll,” said Blakeney. “I feel I’m an athletic scorer and can get to my middle game and pull up. A lot of guys played a lot of minutes, everyone was tired. We needed someone to step up and I tried to do that.”
Inside the Locker Room with Antonio Blakeney
Once again it wasn’t Dunn late as he was scoreless in a brief fourth quarter stint. Which also seems to be part of the conundrum Dunn has faced and seems to be attempting to resolve.
“I try to be aggressive, but because we have so many great scorers on the team I have to kind of defer my game a little bit,” Dunn explained. “And responding to the multiple ball handlers (new transition offense), ball off the rim, so my game is kind of deferred. But at the same time I have to find a way to be aggressive and be impactful and coach is allowing me to play with the second unit a little more the last couple of games, keep my aggression still going. You have three great scorers. I can’t really be impactful scoring wise. My job is to get them the ball, Otto, Lauri, Zach. I’m not going to go in there and shoot with them.”
Which is probably the most comprehensive explanation Dunn has yet offered for his offensive timidity at times.
Meanwhile, the Bulls were the ones with the big fourth quarter lead Friday that the Hawks surpassed and would have won in regulation if not for a brain dead foul of a three-point shooter, Porter making three with a fraction left to tie. Atlanta did add another of those Sunday, DeAndre Bembry fouling Arcidiacono on one of those 50 foot halfcourt heaves at the buzzer most guys shoot too late so as not to lower their percentage. Though you can’t say these teams don’t have fun.
“They are a young team and we are a young team,” said Markkanen. “We are going to be here for awhile, so I think it’s good to get these kinds of experiences.”
Chuck Swirsky recaps the Bulls loss to the Hawks Sunday afternoon
The Hawks got a floater from Kevin Huerter with 59.2 seconds left after the Bulls got within one. But LaVine lost the ball trying to split a double team, and then despite excellent free throw line defense as the Bulls forced Huerter to miss two free throws, both Dunn and Markkanen missed good open threes to tie.
Finally, Kent Bazemore made the second of two free throws with 7.7 seconds left for a 121-117 Atlanta lead. The Hawks fouled LaVine dribbling up with 5.3 seconds left. At which point Boylen admitted the Bulls were not on the same page.
Boylen said he preferred LaVine make both and then go for a steal to potentially tie the game with a basket. LaVine made the first to reduce the Hawks lead to 121-118. Boylen then substituted out Robin Lopez, who had another good game with 16 points, putting in Wayne Seldon Jr. The Hawks put in tall players. LaVine apparently missed the message, and missed intentionally. Atlanta rebounded. Game basically over.
“Maybe we steal the ball; they don’t have a time out,” explained Boylen. “So I subbed small to try to match up, get a deflection, steal the ball and maybe tie the game. There was a misunderstanding there and it’s a learning moment.”
What we really had there with a cool hand, as it turned out, was failure to communicate.
The conversations continue for 18 more games. And who really wanted another overtime, anyway?