In what felt like deja vu for this Bulls team, a strong early start looked to have gone to waste as the Hornets fought back from a double-digit deficit to lead by 8 with less than a minute to go. But tonight, on the back of 49 points from Zach LaVine (with 13 3s), the Bulls stood tall and grabbed a much needed morale boosting win in the final seconds of the game.
It was an early season Saturday night in Charlotte, a game between two teams near the bottom of the conference standings, a game that presumably the NBA world would little note, nor long remember what happened there. But perhaps like that short speech in Pennsylvania, these three minutes for the Bulls in a 116-115 victory will signal their triumph.
"Hopefully," said Zach LaVine, "this is that turning point for us. Every team has it. This could be a big step for us in that direction. We can take a big step in the right direction and hopefully carry this over; we got off the schneid a little bit and we have to go in and take care of business at home. It was a great game, it really was."
An historic game, really, and a memorable closing few minutes during which thanks to LaVine's career high 49 points and record breaking 13 three pointers, the Bulls overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 45 shocking seconds. It concluded with the last of LaVine's amazing 27 fourth quarter points coming on a three pointer with a second left reminiscent of one of the most famous shots in NBA history, Reggie Miller's three when he stole the ball and sprinted back to the three-point line in scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds in the 1995 conference semifinals.
In that famous game, the Pacers only trailed by six points with 18 seconds left. LaVine in the last 40.7 seconds made three three-point field goals, the last to ground the Hornets when he, Ryan Arcidiacono and Coby White merged to dislodge a Charlotte inbounds pass after a Tomas Satoransky three with eight seconds left.
"We all were making big plays," said LaVine. "I remember bringing it in (with 14.7 seconds trailing 115-110) and flipping it to Coby (White with 28 points). I thought Coby was going to pull up for three. Threw it to Sato, pump faked and it goes in. Now I'm like, ‘Oh, we're right back in; let's get a trap or foul, jump ball, something like that.' Once I saw the ball on the ground, I'm going for it. We all were slapping at the ball. I just saw the ball on the ground and, you know, green light."
LaVine picked up the rolling loose ball on the baseline about six feet from the basket. Instead of just shooting for a tie, LaVine sprinted to the three point line, turned and, Won The Game!
LaVine with the game winning 3
"Zach was like a Disney commercial: where magic happens," commented Thaddeus Young.
The Bulls and Hornets now both are 6-11, and as everyone knows, any one win in the NBA doesn't assure any more.
But for the moment no matter what follows, it has to rank among the unforgettable and extraordinary occasions in Bulls franchise history.
Especially because just hours before after a depressing home loss to the Miami Heat, LaVine was stigmatized by coach Jim Boylen for apparent defensive weaknesses. LaVine spoke openly afterward of the inequity of it to fall on him when the flaws were a deserved team effort. LaVine always has been especially professional in willing to stand up to criticism and disappointment perhaps more so than anyone on the Bulls roster. He met with Boylen Saturday and answered with an historic performance.
Replace him at your peril.
Other than Michael Jordan's multitude of 50-point games, only Chet Walker, Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford have had higher scoring games than LaVine's Saturday. No one has come close to LaVine's 13 three pointers (on 17 attempts), and it ties for second all-time in the NBA, one behind Klay Thompson's 14 against the Bulls a year ago. The Ben Gordon and Nikola Mirotic franchise record for threes was nine. LaVine's seven three pointers in the fourth quarter matched White's recently set record. The 22 three pointers by the team, 17 by LaVine and White, broke the team record set during the four overtime win in Atlanta last season. LaVine's fourth quarter was within one three pointer of Jordan's franchise record for points in a quarter and within five points of Butler's franchise record for points in a half.
LaVine had 22 points in the last 7:48 of the game, and then back to back clutch three pointers — one a straight on 34-foot bank shot — after Charlotte went ahead 110-102 with 45.3 seconds left. And then the dramatic and theatric winner with .08 remaining that stunned Jordan's Hornets. Now he knows what it feels like to have done to you what he did to so many. Without a timeout, the Hornets threw half court and Wendell Carter Jr. intercepted to start the most unlikely celebration.
"I just blacked out; we were just celebrating and talking a lot," said LaVine. "A lot of explicit words running off the court. It was fun. An unbelievable win.
"That last one (was my favorite) because, yeah, definitely the game winner; you can't get better than that," said LaVine. "Shooters shoot. I got hot and kept putting them in the basket. I didn't even know how many I had. I just knew I was going to keep shooting. Once I shot it I knew it was cash, that was the craziest game I have been a part of. It was cash."
Talk about your money balls, and if LaVine doesn't get into the All-Star game this February as a selection, how can the NBA not at least add him to the three-point shootout. This guy is money. In Zach We Trust.
"E pluribus unum," which means out of many, one.
Not to suggest that LaVine is the one who can carry the Bulls to the heights they seek. But this is an indispensable player. Sure, White looks like a scoring star in the making. Lauri Markkanen has shown that's in him, though his see-saw continued with three points and one of nine shooting as he didn't play the last 11 minutes of the game. It doesn't matter much with that kind of game.
"Lauri didn't do anything wrong, there wasn't an issue," said Boylen. "It was that group was rolling and I have done that before. I kind of went with my gut and the feel. I didn't think Lauri played poorly; he did not shoot the ball how we know he can. I think he is special and I am going to keep coaching him that way and I'm confident he'll respond."
Carter had another in-everybody's-way game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Satoransky had 10 points and a team high eight assists as the Bulls had one of their better ball movement games, at least in the first half, with 27 assists. The Bulls had 18 assists on 20 first half baskets. Though available, Chandler Hutchison did not play. Otto Porter and Luke Kornet remained out hurt and Denzel Valentine returned to his non playing role. The Bulls continued to force turnovers, 20 for 22 points, though their aggressive ball hawking strategy almost cost them the game when the Hornets adjusted after halftime.
After that gloomy 0-15 start Friday against Miami and the Zach attack, the Bulls Saturday stung the Hornets early with an 18-9 start and a 34-23 lead after the first quarter.
"We were moving the ball with 18 assists in the first half and it kind of set the tone for the game," said Boylen.
Resilient is a popular word in sports, and LaVine defines it as much as any. Despite his brilliant abilities, he often is the focus of criticism because of who he is not. In Chicago, not Jordan or Derrick Rose. Elsewhere not Harden or Westbrook or Kawhi. Which is a little like having a child who is a speed reader but cannot make the varsity teams. Sometimes you need to appreciate them for who they are. LaVine is a transcendent NBA scorer, a rare quality. Perhaps he's not everything you want in a facilitator or defender, but good luck trying to replace what he does so well.
And perhaps the Bulls in that first half stumbled on something that might enhance their prospects with LaVine.
The Bulls generally have put LaVine this season in playmaking situations, requiring him to make decisions on the dribble with tougher shots. On Saturday, the Bulls finally located LaVine more often in squared up catch-and-shoot situations. No one on the team is better at that. The problem has been that no one, perhaps other than a developing White, can get to the basket like LaVine. White isn't likely to become a starter by introduction, though he virtually is by presence as he was into the game for Shaquille Harrison within five minutes. Boylen prefers three-guard lineups with his favorites like the hustling Arcidiacono, and Saturday used four guards and Carter almost the entire fourth quarter.
LaVine kept it from being a fatal decision the way the Hornets scored 41 fourth quarter points taking advantage of mismatches on the smaller guards.
All of LaVine's 13 threes
Though the way White was going with LaVine, you saw glimpses of the Beard and Russ, Kawhi and PG 13, or more realistically Lillard and McCollum. The Trailblazers, whom the Bulls host Monday, have taken it pretty far with the two high scoring guards. It doesn't have to be just Zach and Lauri.
If the Bulls have been known for anything this season — other than some of the ugliest losses — it is a spirited and bothersome defense built on trapping and blitzing the pick and roll and thus forcing turnovers by crowding the passing lanes. With all the scouting NBA teams do, it's surprising how surprised teams seem to see that to start.
The Bulls led 56-42 late in the second quarter with LaVine and White threes sandwiching a season highlight Satoransky running cock-the-hammer dunk. The Hornets, though scored the last seven to trail 56-49 at halftime. Then came yet another brutal third quarter when the opposition adjusted. When you trap the pick and roll like the Bulls do, you leave open the roll man with a quick inside pass. He can catch and dive to the basket or then fan out to a shooter and you are playing three against four, and generally three small guys. The Hornets led by Terry Rozier with 28 points and Marvin Williams with 21 sliced up the Bulls in that third quarter with a 16-2 run that only was stopped by a rare successful Boylen challenge of a turnover call. Charlotte led 74-69 after three quarters and then kept going inside to offset the Bulls three-point attempts. They would have 60 interior points to 38 for the Bulls.
"We played really good in the first half and then we came out and lost the lead," LaVine noted. "The same story that we have been telling."
Sort of an elegy in the making.
Charlotte looked like they survived LaVine's eight points in less than two minutes to lead 105-97 with 2:13 left. But White went 94 feet after a Rozier free throw for a layup, Carter rebounded a pair of missed shots for a free throw and a basket, White added another flash drive, Satoransky got the pump fake three, Arcidiacono and White dislodged the inbounds and the ball was rolling toward LaVine.
"I just said (forget) it, I'm going for the game."
Some men are created just a littler bit more special with a basketball.