A slow third quarter and lack of adjustments along the way, led to the Bulls falling to the Pelicans on the road.
Sometimes it's as easy as one, two, three. Actually, one and two haven't been too difficult for the Bulls this season. But once again Wednesday in a 123-108 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, three was the problem. There was yet another Bulls third-quarter collapse, this time a 44-27 Pelicans margin that obliterated a competitive game at halftime.
"Same thing; we got outplayed," said Zach LaVine, who often seemed like he was trying to patch the cracks in a crumbling wall with a flood pouring through. "They locked into what we were doing. They went to halftime and they adjusted their offense a little bit and they picked us apart. Same storylines. Third-quarter, it just seemed like it flipped. I don't know why. I wish I could tell you. If we had that answer we would not be continuing to do that."
LaVine had 32 points, including a burst of seven straight late in the third when the Pelicans began to chew on the Bulls like they were carp. LaVine would came back in the fourth with back to back long threes with six minutes left to give the Bulls some hope and a nine-point deficit after trailing by 20 early in the fourth quarter. But the Pelicans exploited the Bulls pick and roll aggression with Brandon Ingram and J.J. Redick threes and left them still dancing in New Orleans.
Both teams now are 13-25 with Zion Williamson expected back for the Pelicans next week. Wendell Carter Jr. will get an MRI Thursday on his sprained ankle as he remained on crutches.
Ingram had 29 points for the Pelicans and Redick had 24 and New Orleans had a 50-39 rebounding edge. Pelicans Rookie Jaxson Hayes had 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks as the Bulls Daniel Gafford, also coming off the bench, was scoreless in 16 minutes with four rebounds and two blocks.
Thaddeus Young started in place of Carter and had 18 points, six rebounds, and three steals in a season most 35 minutes.
"Just the energy is not the same, the flow is not the same (after halftime)," said Young.
Kris Dunn made three of six threes for 15 points with five steals, all in the first half. Dunn only played 12 minutes in the second half after a spirited 18 first-half minutes.
"Teams are making adjustments and we have to be able to adjust with them," said Dunn. "Today credit New Orleans. They made adjustments to our defense and at the same time, it's our fault, the players on the court. We have to see what they are doing. But we just couldn't get a grasp of it and then this is the NBA. Once guys get going, it's hard to stop their rhythm. In the first half, they were careless and we capitalized on it. The second half they weren't careless and they drove the ball at us, made crisp passes and were getting open looks. They were getting rebounds; they brought it in the second half."
It resulted in another dispiriting setback for the Bulls with a fifth consecutive loss in a month of relentless games.
Lauri Markkanen had 14 points but shot just four of 13 as without Carter and Gafford off the bench he was matched at center at times. Hayes took advantage of some size disparities finishing several lob dunks with Young also taking a turn against he or Derrick Favors. Coby White had 10 points and Tomas Satoransky fouled out in 25 minutes with six points.
The Bulls had some energetic possessions to start, forcing seven first-quarter turnovers and leading 21-17 before trailing 23-21 at the end of the first. LaVine was sharp with eight points and three assists and Dunn was befuddling the Pelicans guards.
"I thought we had moments in the first quarter where we could have been up 10 or 12," added Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought we left some money on the table (with) the turnovers we were forcing and the way our defense responded in the first quarter. It was disappointing."
It was LaVine again in the second quarter with a team most nine points helping the Bulls to a late 48-42 lead before the Pelicans scored six straight to close the half. The Bulls had eight steals and had forced 11 turnovers. But they would add just four steals and force four turnovers in the second half, New Orleans with an offensive celebration in the third quarter with 13 of 20 shooting, 16 points from Ingram. LaVine's team-best again seven points was not enough to help offset the Pelicans' onslaught.
LaVine finished with one of his better all-round games with six assists, five rebounds, two steals and 13 of 24 shooting, three of seven on threes. His frustration was evident leaving the game and Boylen was speaking with him in the locker room when reporters entered.
"Come out (in the third quarter) with that same urgency and you put teams away; what they did to us," said LaVine. "It is frustrating. Got to get ready. It's not like the other team is saying they haven't won in a while so give them a win; they're going to try to take advantage. We have to get off this slide soon; you don't want this to snowball. We've got to come in with a chip on our shoulder, be a little upset, be physical. We've got to grind a win out.
It's again left a lot of questions and confusion.
"I thought some of the newness and youngness and different lineups weighed on us a little bit," said Boylen. "But I thought they outplayed us in the third and it was the difference in the game. We've got young guys out there trying to figure it out. Keep pounding at that rock and hopefully, we can break through with the understanding that every possession is valuable and not just the ones at the end of the game."
The Bulls have responded late in games, often when they are behind and playing furiously. They talk about 48 minutes and maintaining energy. They've become one of the more aggressive defensive teams in the league, especially the way they've been able to disrupt ball screens and play the lanes for steals and fast breaks. The Bulls finished with 28 fast break points, nine more than the baby Pelicans, who also got 11 assists from Ingram and seven from Lonzo Ball. New Orleans had 31 assists on 41 field goals, 10 in the third quarter when they sliced up the Bulls traps and shows like one of those carving knife sales on late-night TV. It helped result in eight of 16 New Orleans shooting on threes after they were seven of 28 in the first half.
The defense that has been successful for the Bulls involves pressure on the ball handler and the pick and roll. Sometimes it's a surprise when teams don't attempt back door cuts more often as aggressively as the Bulls play and sneak into the passing lanes for steals. You cannot come out hesitant against these Bulls, which has enabled them to get leads. But now with injuries and some shifting lineups, they've been unable to create and sustain the leads Boylen mentioned. They played the Mavericks even in the third quarter Monday and it took an amazing 21-point run from Luka Doncic to achieve that. But previously, the Bulls had been outscored in the third quarter in 12 of 16 games.
Bulls vs. Pelicans Recap
"We're not really trying to trap," explained Young. "We're just trying to back the ball handler up a little bit. And sometimes they run a dummy offense where they know we are going to show or back the ball up and it kind of leaves one or two of the guys on the backside in no man's land. Those (weak side) corner threes we start giving up because we are so aggressive on the ball.
"(Pelicans) Coach (Alvin) Gentry is a smart coach," said Young. "He's been around for a long time. He knows how to make those adjustments to where it can kill you defensively. We have to just be able to piggyback off what they are doing and make our adjustments, also. I think we are there mentally. But we just have to do things a little harder. We can't be outplayed (in the third) and we have to make the adjustments on the fly. I wouldn't say it's real difficult. Just a matter of locking in."
Because too many more of those issues and it's not just one, two, three, but going down for the count in the playoff race.