Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 29 points and Garrett Temple scored a season-high 21 points off the bench as the Bulls were able to neutralize a huge triple-double from Dallas' Luka Doncic to beat the Mavericks 117-101 on Sunday afternoon.
There were some critical questions facing the Bulls since their worst trip to Oklahoma since scouting JamesOn Curry. Did they have anything in reserve? And could anyone spell Porzingis?
The Bulls did have plenty in reserve with 61 points off the bench led by Garrett Temple's 21, his most in more than a year. And then there was the sweetest sight in the world for Lauri Markkanen since losing his pair of reindeer gloves, Kristaps Porzingis. Talk about Who's Your Daddy!
Markkanen scored 29 points, his season high and second most since the opening game of the 2019-20 season. Zach LaVine at mostly point guard had 10 assists and contributed to as-close-as-the-Bulls-will-get to a late game shut down of Luka Donicic, and the Bulls led almost the entire game in defeating the Dallas Mavericks 117-101.
Lauri Markkanen finished with 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the win over Dallas on Sunday.
LaVine scored a season low 10 points on one of eight shooting while Coby White was scoreless for just the second time in his NBA career, the usually high scoring duo combining to shoot one of 13 overall. But LaVine was sparkling with his most assists in a game since his rookie season, three steals, just two turnovers despite being the primary point guard and a starters' best plus-11 rating.
"I really thought he made great decisions and he played in my opinion a tremendous floor game where he was balanced, where he had assists, rebounding; he didn't force anything," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "Really played the right way. He got downhill (eight of eight free throws), he found his teammates. If Zach can keep evolving like that, that's only going to help our team and make us better. Thad (Young) mentioned it to the guys after the game. He said ‘Coby and Zach, you guys didn't score, but you played the game the right way that really enhanced and helped us win.' Those guys are players that require a lot of attention, so it opens up things for other people and when they can play like that it's just going to help us."
Young equalled a season high with 15 points and both he and Otto Porter Jr. made seven of 10 shots. Ryan Arcidiacono in just his third game of the season played spirited defense to support the game changing energy of reserve center Daniel Gafford, whose first quarter play was pivotal in rousing a seemingly still suffering Bulls team following that 22-point blown lead overtime loss in Oklahoma City.
Gafford's defense with a pair of blocks and causing Dallas played to pause going to the basket midway through the first quarter turned a 16-9 Dallas start into a 27-23 Bulls first quarter lead. Driven by the reserves' play against a decimated Dallas team with six regulars facing Covid restrictions, the Bulls reserves with a boost from Markkanen hung a 40-point second quarter on the Mavericks that this time led to a 15-point halftime lead the Bulls would not fumble.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pointed to that first quarter defensive stretch and then Temple's 15-point second quarter as the turning points for the Bulls victory.
Garrett Temple scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Chicago's win over Dallas.
"The first game I played we got the bench together before the tip off and first game, I told the bench, ‘We can be the best bench in the league because of the experience, the talent we have coming off the bench,'" Temple recalled. "Our team is going to need the bench to play well because we have such a young unit and there's going to be times where we have to help them out. So a game like today was great to show that. Zach and Coby didn't have a great shooting night, but obviously Lauri played really well."
Yes, Markkanen, who perhaps is under more scrutiny than any Bulls player after his setbacks last season and failure to reach a contract extension. It was Markkanen's second game back after his Covid quarantine issues and just sixth of the season and third scoring at least 20 points. He exceeded 20 points last season in 10 of 50 games.
"I love Lau," said Temple. "I love the fact that he's been so aggressive. That's been surprising to me. Playing against him in the past, I haven't seen as many duck ins, as many drives to the basket. He's been really aggressive on the offensive boards as well. Just his offensive mentality, not just being a standstill, catch-and-shoot three-point guy and occasionally a driver. He's really been aggressive offensively. And we need him to continue to do that for this team."
Markkanen has had some of the best games of his career against the more celebrated Porzingis, who is returning unsteadily from yet another knee issue and missed all seven of his threes while scoring 20 points. Markkanen had his coming out party as a pro in his rookie season against Porzingis in New York with 33 points and eight threes in a Bulls win. Supposedly destined for stardom in the wake of performances like that, Markkanen then suffered through injuries, health scares and unsettling coaching decisions.
He started slowly in the first quarter as Donovan faces something of a dilemma with Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the latter with 12 points, seven rebounds and a career high five steals. Neither is particularly emotional nor top rim protectors, two strengths of Gafford. It was his energetic play that seemed to ignite a somewhat ashen start. Though Donovan is charged perhaps primarily this season with analyzing and evaluating Carter and Markkanen. Win, sure, but make sure the franchise can make big decisions regarding the big guys.
Markkanen has been making much more effort to get to the basket, showing some of the fading bank shots that were once a fixture for him. He still flops around at times while taking contact and trying to finish, but he has been more successful this season as he also seems permitted to move from the perimeter.
"I figured they were running me off the line a little bit and I had the lane to drive," Markkanen observed. "So it was just what the defense gave me and I just tried to be aggressive to get to the rim. And that's what I was able to do.''
Luka Doncic and Zach LaVine
It proved more than enough to hold off the magnificent Donicic, who had a triple double by the third quarter and finished with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists. Doncic had 20 of his team's 29 second quarter points in a vain attempt to hold off these surging Bulls. The Bulls won the game, though Doncic won the highlight show with a double behind the back pass for a Willie Cauley-Stein dunk in the third quarter. It was in the midst of the Mavericks' only run since the start, pulling within 79-70. But this time the Bulls snorted. LaVine's third quarter defense on Doncic was crucial with Patrick Williams in foul trouble after being beguiled by Doncic's first half movements an 30 points. Arcidiacono made a three, Markkanen tipped in his own miss with a second offensive board in that possession, Young finished a floater on an Arcidiacono pass and the Bulls were back up by 17 points as Dallas never got much closer. This time with two minutes left in the game the Bulls, 5-8, led by double digits but looked a lot different. Carlisle pulled Doncic and Porzingis.
"I felt like our guys took a step in the right direction," Donovan said. "I think it says a lot about our guys. This is a great group of guys and they're competitive and I think after losing the way we did in Oklahoma and to be able to come back and respond the way they did today, that was really encouraging to see. Obviously, there have been some painful moments this year. But they're really working and it speaks to their character that coming out of that game, they didn't hang their head. They tried to improve and make some strides as a team."
Perhaps this is different because in the last few seasons that interregnum between despair (Oklahoma) and fear (Dallas) would likely have extended the catastrophe. This time they just went back to school. There's a reason some players come off the bench and others start, and no one is building a winner out of bench strength. Donovan is a disciple of Rick Pitino, who has practiced that pants-on-fire, tag team offense with his successful college teams. It didn't go over so well when he tried it in Boston. The NBA season and games are too long for that sort of pressure and 48 minutes of hell. Though the Bulls do have an advantage on most NBA teams with the veterans on their bench, even if most are not considered part of the team;'s future. Though playing for their own futures is a nice motivation. They've also been willing to help their teammates, Temple being one of the most popular players in the league.
Following Friday's loss in OKC, Billy Donovan met with Garrett Temple, Otto Porter Jr., and Thad Young to talk about the importance of their veteran influence
"Billy actually pulled us three aside during practice yesterday and talked about us being able to be the guys who can go on the court and settle down the team," Temple said about he, Porter and Young. "We have such a young starting lineup. But we have so much talent. A lot of top-10 picks, top-15 picks, and they're guys who can actually play at that level. I think Arch did a great job as well of being a steadying guy when he came off the bench. But that's definitely something they brought me and Thad and Otto in for, to be that steadying influence coming off the bench. And then off the court whether it's being in the huddles or on the plane ride back. I watched film with the guys from the OKC game, Me, Zach, Pat, Wendell watching film, talking about different things that we can change. And then in the huddles Thad is really vocal, myself, Otto. Just continuing to teach as much as we can. Not be overbearing, but let guys know what we see."
What they saw, but also contributed to, was an historic collapse against the Thunder. So the Bulls seemed to concentrate more on mental health afterwards, and it all seemed to make the physical part more pleasing.
LaVine even with 10 points was more insouciant than indignant after the game, from off stage as Markkanen talked to media via video asking why reporters only wanted to interview him after losses. With no media allowed in direct contact with players this season, media can request two or three players post game for video sessions. LaVine clearly was joking thanks to the 40-hour mood swing for the early afternoon game.
This time the Bulls weren't joking, and they were no joke.