Zach LaVine dropped 41 points on 15-of-27 shooting but it wasn't enough as the Bulls fell to the Brooklyn Nets 115-107. The loss means Washington needs to win just one more game this season in order to eliminate Chicago from securing a play-in spot. The Bulls (29-40) will look for a win on Thursday against the Toronto Raptors (27-42).
Uh oh, it's not looking so good for the Bulls.
Not after losing Tuesday 115-107 to the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls now with three games remaining are one loss or one Washington win away from elimination from the post season play-in tournament.
This one really hurt.
"Today was a big game," agreed Zach LaVine, who came up bigger than anyone on the floor with 41 points, six of 11 threes, half the Bulls free throw attempts and 15 of 27 shooting overall at a time the rest of the team combined for 35 percent shooting. "I think we would've needed to get this one to make it a real, real shot."
It ain't over because, well, it ain't over. But the fat lady is warming up because they're up a creek with their backs to the wall while on their heels looking like a dead duck with a tough road to hoe as a final nail is close to being pounded into their coffin because their fate is about sealed.
"We didn't do enough throughout the season to put us in position," reminded LaVine. "There were a lot of games that we could've won and we were talking about (at the time) where we'd be sitting here at this time of the year with some of the losses that we had that we should've won and the record that we should've had. It's always what we should've did. Yada, yada, yada. We put ourselves in this boat. Obviously, I'm riding along in it. So it's upsetting and you gotta be accountable. It sucks, though. Obviously, I want to be in the playoffs and be on that stage. We're just not there yet.
"I would love to have just the opportunity to go out there and play and compete and showcase what I can do on a bigger stage," LaVine added. "I'm going to get there."
Highlights from Zach LaVine's 41 point performance against the Brooklyn Nets.
It's not looking like it will be this season as absolutely brilliant and determined as LaVine was Tuesday, showing the urgency from the start that seemed to be lacking otherwise. The Bulls record fell to 29-40.
LaVine looked like that guy racing into battle carrying the flag and looking around with no one following him.
Nikola Vucevic had an unusually lacking offensive game with 12 points on five of 18 shooting with 12 rebounds and six assists. Though Vucevic's biggest assist didn't resonate enough as he accidentally KO'd Kyrie Irving with an elbow two minutes into the second half. Irving with a facial contusion didn't return.
But even with the Bulls then cutting a 17-point second quarter deficit—and 13 at halftime—to nine just after Irving went out, the Nets got a crucial Kevin Durant block on LaVine and Blake Griffin three to retain momentum and go on a 19-9 run to close the third quarter with a 93-74 lead. The Bulls, as has been their custom with these big late deficits, fought back behind LaVine to within 105-97 with three minutes left. Durant with a jumper and a slick pass to Jeff Green for a score was enough to hold off a pair of Coby White threes in the last minute.
White also shot poorly, six of 17 for 16 points. Lauri Markkanen was most productive off the bench with 11 points in 19 minutes making three of seven threes. But Patrick Williams attempted just two shots in 23 minutes despite being defended by Joe Harris and Landry Shamet. And Thad Young, Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky off the bench combined to shoot four of 20. Daniel Theis returned from missing a game to add 10 points and two of two on threes.
But the Bulls once again were unprepared at the start of an important game, falling behind 8-0 and by double digits less than four minutes into the game.
"We fought a lot better in the second half," noted LaVine. "But we've got to come out with... I hope everybody would've came out with the same fight. We picked it up too late. Against a team like that, even when they have some guys out (James Harden didn't play), with how talented they are, they'll make you pay. It wasn't like KD or Kyrie went off. They beat us with their team, defensive rebounding, cuts, offensive rebounding, a bunch of things.
Zach LaVine finished with 41 points on 15-of-27 shooting in the loss to Brooklyn.
"We have to be the more physical team and just show them this isn't going to be a cakewalk," reminded LaVine. "We made it into a game at the end, but a little too late. If we would've came out a little bit more aggressive, popped them in the mouth a couple more times, let them know that we were here, I think that would've set the tone for the rest of the game."
And so the lessons it seems the Bulls learned, like in recent wins over the Celtics and Hornets, again were forgotten at just the wrong time.
"I do feel like we didn't have the same sense of urgency that we had the last three games," Vucevic agreed. "For whatever reason, it wasn't there tonight and it hurt us. I struggled offensively, obviously. It was frustrating because I felt like if I could make some of those shots it would help us stay in the game. It's also more frustrating for me because I felt like I didn't help him (LaVine) tonight when he had a huge game. If I had done my part we could have had a better chance. We got down, and against a team like they are it's difficult to come back."
With Harden out, Irving as it turned out playing a half after a terrific start and Durant still being eased back into full throttle, the opportunity seemed there for the Bulls to at least sneak up on Washington. Charlotte lost again, but did clinch a play-in spot with the Bulls loss. The Pacers surprised the Joel Embiid-less 76ers. And now there's only a chance for 10th for the Bulls if they can win out against Toronto, Brooklyn and Milwaukee and the Wizards lose to Atlanta, Cleveland and Charlotte.
"Indiana beating Philly tonight, obviously, is hurting us," said Vucevic. "Now we're depending on Washington. But you never know. They're going to miss Bradley Beal for a couple of games (hamstring out for last three games). We've got to continue to do our job and try to win these last three games and see what happens. It's disappointing. It's not the situation we want to be in. But it is what it is. We only can try to control what we can."
Vucevic didn't seem to get into the offense to start, attempting just three first quarter shots as the Bulls fell quickly behind and seemed to panic some to get back quickly. Bulls coach Billy Donovan agreed with LaVine that the team lacked some physical play to start, but the ball also seemed to stop moving for the Bulls. The Nets had a dozen first quarter assists on a dozen baskets. The Bulls had four on 10. By halftime, the Nets had 20 assists on just one turnover in the kind of efficient offensive game once Harden is back with Irving and Durant that it doesn't seem like anyone in the Eastern Conference can match.
"With a team like that you've got to be able to score some, too, because they do it so easy," noticed Donovan. "Zach was spectacular. He carried us in a lot of ways. It wasn't a great offensive night for our team. Zach tried to do everything he could to carry us. But we just couldn't really score enough for most of the night."
Billy Donovan reacts to the Bulls 115-107 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Even in defeat, LaVine was special. It was apparent how badly he wanted the win, and how much he virtually willed himself to score, bashing his way through the entire Nets defense at times. And despite their reputation, the Nets are a competent defensive team. Especially with Durant's size and length and an excellent addition in second round pick Nicholas Claxton, who had 10 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of sensational put back dunk scores.
Still, LaVine impressed with everything but the final score.
"Offensively," marveled Donovan, "what he did was incredible tonight. In terms of carrying us because we needed that. We just didn't have a lot of things going during the course of the game. I didn't really feel like those two guys (Durant and Irving) hurt us so much. I thought it was their balance, the other guys. No one really crushed it for them in terms of having a huge, huge outpouring like Zach did for us.
"I'm absolutely amazed that he's got a few games under his belt (after missing 11 games with Covid) to get back to that level," enthused Donovan. "You talk to any of the players that have dealt with it, it takes a while to get back."
Video highlights from the Bulls' Tuesday night matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
And unless the unexpected occurs, it will be awhile once again before the Bulls are back.
In that first half, the Nets were just too good and too efficient as the Bulls didn't apply the defensive pressure and often allowed the Nets to run plays like it was a shootaround.
Then Irving went out and Durant was going to sit awhile in the second half. But the Nets continued to get unlikely contributions with eight players scoring in double figures, Bruce Brown with 15 points and 10 rebounds and the other Mike James on a 10-day contract after playing in Moscow this season with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. The Bulls had just nine turnovers and made six more threes, but were outrebounded even with Blake Griffin starting at center for DeAndre Jordan and throttled by the Nets' mid range shooting.
The Nets were leading 102-84 with about six minutes left in the game when LaVine tried one last gasp, driving full court and being fouled, again after he stole the ball and drove for a three-point play and then made a three after a Griffin miss. Nets by 11 with 4:55 left.
Green made a big three, but Vucevic finally found the range with a pair of threes sandwiching a White missed three to pull the Bulls within 105-97 with 3:07 left.
"Even with a tough offensive night, I just felt like the guys tried to continue to battle and do the things to try and put ourselves in position to win," said Donovan. "I think this group always does that."
LaVine drove into the lane and made a tough fading jumper and followed that with a full court dash for a pair of free throws. His urgency was never in question with 13 fourth quarter points. 107-101 Nets with 1:39 left on a 17-5 Bulls run. Where was this for the first 40 minutes?
The Bulls then smothered Durant. But he lined a pass inside to Green for a layup and eight-point Nets lead with 82 seconds left. LaVine finally missed and the Nets offset White's late threes with free throws to never let it get too close.
"Until that day comes where we know, ‘OK, we have no more chance,'" said Donovan. "Or, ‘OK, we still have a chance,' we've just got to continue to fight and battle."