Lauri Markkanen scored 22 points and Zach LaVine added 20 but it was the bench that did all the work in the fourth quarter as the Bulls erased a 22-point margin to defeat the Thunder 105-103. They head into next Wednesday's season opener against the Atlanta Hawks with three straight preseason wins.
How good are these Bulls? This good: The Bulls Friday night to close their preseason jolted the Thunder with a lightning fourth quarter strike for a 105-103 Bulls victory. The Bulls were led to the win from a 19-point fourth quarter deficit by two guys not even expected to make the final roster, Simi Shittu and Zach Norvell Jr. Consider the prospects if the regulars were playing. And they thought the tornados were destructive in Oklahoma!
This in the political world would be known as spin. You know, don't believe what you see. Believe what I say.
Bulls 4th quarter comeback
Actually, the Bulls play Friday was something of a bookend for the poor opening night effort against the Houston Rockets. The Bulls with Lauri Markkanen finally a bright spot and Zach LaVine the most reli-a-Bull throughout this shortened preseason were outplayed and outmaneuvered by the rebuilding Thunder throughout most of the game, trailing by 22 with two minutes left in the third quarter. The confluence of rested Bulls reserves and Thunder subs obviously anxious to get to the roaring Oklahoma City nightlife enabled the Bulls to record a victory.
And now it's scoreboard watching as the Bulls need the Wizards Saturday in the league's preseason close to defeat the Pistons to enable the Bulls to clinch the Central Division preseason title and Billy Donovan's first Chicago championship.
Yes, I have been avoiding this game. You know, just like the Bulls mostly did.
Markkanen showed promising flashes of rookie/sophomore Lauri with 22 points and LaVine was again in almost a boring routine automatic with 20 points.
"Zach has been the one guy that's been pretty consistent scoring throughout," agreed Donovan.
Zach LaVine scores 20 points against the Thunder
"We've been a team at least in this preseason where we've had different guys have different kind of nights," Donovan noted. "Coby had a really big game last game here in OKC and really didn't have a great game (four points on one of 10 shooting, though a team most nine rebounds). Lauri last two games didn't have a great offensive game. Wendell (Carter Jr.) hasn't shot well (zero for four on threes for a 1-16 preseason), but he was better in and around the basket scoring and finishing than he had the last couple games. They were the aggressor. We were back on our heels. They made it a lot more difficult and harder on us and we didn't respond to it."
Rookie Patrick Williams started again for Otto Porter Jr. and never much got into the game with seven points and three rebounds in 29 minutes. Porter came off the bench and again seemed to lack lift, shooting one of eight. Chandler Hutchison did have another hustling effort and even made a pair of threes for 11 points. Though the Bulls trailed 90-71 after three until the Simi Show of drives, short jumpers and loose balls with 13 fourth quarter points and the teams trading leads down the stretch. A Thunder three to win the game at the buzzer rolled off the rim as the teams shared four turnovers in the last nerve wracking 73 seconds. Oklahoma City only released one of its players who finished the game immediately afterward, T.J. Leaf.
It undoubtedly was a difficult choice.
And so the next time we see the Bulls it will be in their first NBA game that counts since March 10, Wednesday in the United Center against the Atlanta Hawks.
It will be with a new coach and pretty much the same roster and perhaps the same starting lineup.
Though White shot poorly Friday, he and LaVine seem certain to start in a backcourt that has promise, if not yet consistency.
"He just had an off shooting night," LaVine said about White, who was leading the the team in scoring before the game. "There's going to be days like that throughout the season. We're not just going to be putting up combined 55 points every night; it's not going to happen. I don't think every backcourt does that every single night. He's got to be Coby. If he misses, he can't put his head down. He's got to continue doing what he does, help us with the offense and also be able to get his shot off. I don't think Coby ever lacks for confidence."
The backcourt seems like the Bulls best and most reliable option with LaVine's shooting almost mesmerizing in its flow and efficiency. Though White didn't shoot well this game, he's a natural scorer and he and LaVine should combine for at least 40 points every game, often more. Markkanen adding 20 points on a regular basis would solve some problems. And Friday he provided what in the last year has been a rare glimpse at who he used to be.
Markkanen played as a trail perimeter center often in the game, a role Donovan seems to be enamored of for Markkanen. Markkanen was four of 10 on three pointers and nine of 17 overall shooting with more of the driving aggression he showed some Wednesday against the Thunder.
"I think that's the level I can play every night and that's where my expectations are," Markkanen said. "I think the system fits me really well. I feel like it's night and day from last year. Being in down screens and being on the move the whole time (versus a stationary catch-and-shoot target). I'm really liking the offense so far. We just got to keep getting better at it.''
Carter figures to remain the starting center for now, though his hesitancy and uncertainty continued in his long distance shooting. It's clear Donovan has been urging Carter to take those shots to open the floor by having defenders rush out to him. They're apparently reading the box scores and leaving Carter open. He's continued to look unsure about whether to shoot and he's continued to miss. Though he clearly was more comfortable operating inside in some pick and roll plays and even a lob pass for a Markkanen dunk.
Though there's been a lot of excitement about rookie Williams, he's probably not ready to start yet. He remained passive playing with the starters and went for long periods in this game without attempting offense. He's going to be very good, though perhaps not quite yet. Porter is puzzling as he's not moving particularly well. Though his shot at least looks good.
One problem Donovan has is Thad Young, Tomas Satoransky, Denzel Valentine and Garrett Temple all remained out and basically have missed all or most of the preseason games. Their absences have enabled Hutchison to create some notice with his activity and hustle.
But also, in part, as a result of those players missing, Donovan admitted he probably contributed to the general lethargy by staying with a seven-player rotation most of the first three quarters.
"I think we got a little bit gassed at the end of the first quarter," Donovan acknowledged after the Bulls had gotten off to a fast paced 24-17 start.
LaVine to start made some clever passes for scores, and again his defense was much improved. Markkanen made a three to start the game, but there were worrisome signs with the Bulls opting too much for one pass and a shot. Initially, they were making those shots. That didn't endure as the Thunder led 29-27 after one quarter.
"What I was trying to do tonight was I wanted to get Lauri at the five spot," Donovan explained. "I wanted to see what that would look like against (Mike) Muscala with (Al) Horford coming off. It probably shortened our rotation a little bit. It probably put guys on the court a minute or two or three minutes longer than they should have been. I don't want to speak for Zach and Coby, but that was a long stretch for the two of them to play in the backcourt. We didn't really have a lot of perimeter players (Ryan Arcidiacono had to leave briefly after taking a second quarter charge). They certainly played 10 to our seven, and we probably could've used a little bit more of a rest."
The Bulls disintegrated in the second quarter as the Thunder kept making threes and the Bulls acted as if they didn't believe it and challenged them to do so again. They did with Horford making four.
"I think we had a lot of short closeouts," Donovan agreed. "We did not get out there well enough. I think that's what we did such a great job of the other night. We had (defensive) help and we really had a presence at the basket (Wednesday). The ball (Friday) went wherever it wanted to go. And we went under (screens) a lot."
Back to that proverbial drawing board?
"I'm not happy it happened tonight," Donovan said. "But it's good for us to show those guys on film so we can get better at the technique of doing that."
Those coaches love the film room more than Siskel and Ebert did.
After trailing by 15 points at halftime, the Bulls' frustration and lethargy grew in somewhat similar proportions as there were more offensive isolations, standing around; clearly the cumulative effect of three days in an Oklahoma City hotel room. No Four Seasons or Ritz there.
No problem for Simisola, the undrafted 6-10 Canadian forward who played for Vanderbilt and last season the Windy City Bulls.
"We've had two good games, two bad games," noted LaVine. "We've shown that we can bounce back from the bad games. Even though we won tonight, they jumped on us early and we've got to be able to respond to some of those leads. It's a new group. We're still learning. I think we've got to fight a little bit more."
Round 1 December 23.