Bulls rally but fall short in Golden State, fall 119-111

Sometimes your best fortifications, your grand plan to counter the opposition, doesn’t work. There was the Great Wall of China, the Maginot Line, and now the Bulls starting lineup.

Before Friday’s Bulls 119-111 much better loss—not that anyone is taking pride in that—to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Bulls coach Billy Donovan changed 40 percent of his starting lineup, Alex Caruso and Javonte Green substituting for Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams.

And with Goran Dragić making some big shots and closing alternately with Caruso and Green and the Big Three starters, the Bulls almost pulled if off, blitzing their way back from an 19-point deficit with nine minutes left to a chance to take the lead with two minutes left after a Zach LaVine three... if only one of the Warriors worst shooters would miss.

But Draymond Green somehow made a three pointer for a 113-109 Golden State lead, and consecutive misses by DeMar DeRozan on an off night, LaVine, Nikola Vučević and Caruso never gave the Bulls another chance.

The Bulls’ record fell to 9-13 as they close this lately rugged road trip in Sacramento Sunday.

Zach LaVine finished with 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting against the Warriors.

Vučević led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds and LaVine added 21 points with three of seven threes. But DeRozan was an uncharacteristic four of 15 for 16 points. Javonte Green was a boost with 13 points back in his starting role for the first time since preseason, and Dragić added 14 points. Dragić’s included his pair of three pointers early in the fourth quarter that turned what seemed like another bad defeat into, well, maybe a worse defeat because it was so close to being otherwise. But this time the Bulls were the better team the last nine minutes, and not because their garbage guys were cleaning up.

But even as Dragić rallied the Bulls back with his shooting, it was that Achilles that keeps rupturing for the Bulls, the regular three-point shooting deficit. The Bulls simply lack the three-point threats to match almost every team in the league, and Coby White attempted just one in less than seven minutes on the court.

“We’ve got to take more threes and we’ve got to generate more threes,” Donovan reiterated in an all-too-common refrain. “And I think we can do that. We haven’t shot the ball great from three and we don’t take a high volume. But you cannot have that kind of discrepancy.”

The Warriors were 20 of 50 on threes, getting 33 more points on three pointers than the Bulls. Jordan Poole off the Warriors bench was their leader with 30 points and seven of 13 threes while the Bulls did an excellent job in controlling both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined for seven of 21 threes. Thompson had 26 points and Curry 19 with six turnovers among the Warriors’ 20.

That’s usually a solid formula for beating the Warriors, who are just 12-11. Their bench is depleted with their young players from the recent drafts mostly ineffective. But they do play a splendid version of the game with relentless movement and passing, racking up 32 assists. Their offense often seems like a blend of Norman Dale from Hoosiers with four passes before a shot and Lucille Ball in the famous chocolate factor conveyer belt sketch with the sweets just coming and coming and coming, faster and faster and faster.

It looks that way at times with the Warriors driving into the paint, swing, swing, swing, swing. And then with these head scratching wide open layups.

“I thought we got hurt in the first half on a lot of back cuts,” explained Donovan. “We jumped some screens to try to beat them to a screen and they back cut. They are good at that, a good passing team. But we kind of weathered the storm.”

The Bulls got behind 63-52 at halftime, but mostly because of a late 8-0 meltdown to close the half. The Bulls actually were staying with the Warriors from the perimeter to start, making five of seven threes in the first quarter to trail 35-33. Of course, Golden State was seven of 15. But still, the Bulls were competitive and made the Warriors work extra hard with a firmer defense effort.

Which is a change from many of the first quarters this season with slow starts, and it seems like Donovan is going to stick with this change for awhile. You can risk the smaller Javonte Green at power forward against a team like the Warriors, who often use Draymond Green at center with multiple guards. But the Bulls’ verdant Green did seem to help energize the starters—Vučević had 11 points in the first quarter—along with Caruso, whom Warriors coach Steve Kerr called, “one of the best defensive guards in the league.…did a good job on Steph.”

Added LaVine: “Javonte Green has been quintessential for what we do. Anybody in the NBA will be lucky to have a guy like that on their team. So for him to step in and play like that is great.”

Though it again falls on Donovan to consider things since Caruso’s specialty is defense (he had just two points on one of four shooting) while Dragić’s is offense and playmaking, which are more traditional point guard roles in this NBA. But Donovan obviously is wary about overplaying the oldest player on the Bulls roster.

It was obvious after the pitiful loss in Phoenix, however, that Donovan had seen enough. Not so much, he said, to take a swing at anyone, but more like a piñata and hope something sweet drops from his swing.

“There was a pretty decent body of work for the number of games we played, and I just wanted to take a look at something different and see what that would look like,” Donovan explained. 

Though it was a dramatic move for Donovan since he doesn’t seem to like to change starters much.

“We didn’t win tonight, but I felt overall our guys competed,” Donovan said. “I thought there was more consistency from certainly the previous game. We’ll wait and see how it looks going forward. I don’t know if the lineup (change) had anything to do with anything. I do know our guys have a lot of pride. I don’t think anybody was happy with the way we played in Phoenix. If the lineup had stayed the same, quite honestly, I believe we would have responded better because there is character in the locker room and that’s not who we’ve been.

“It may be something that’s not going to be good,” Donovan added. “At least I’ve thrown it out there and taken a look. Over the first 20 games or so we’ve had this up and down roller coaster, so maybe look at some different combinations and how guys complement each other, how guys can help each other. These are great guys and want to win; they’re unselfish and willing to sacrifice. We’ll see how it goes.”

It almost became a brilliant stroke after it almost became another game when the opponent didn’t need its best players in the fourth quarter.

With DeRozan unable to find much room against Draymond Green’s defense and the Bulls really not utilizing LaVine’s outside shooting enough since he’s the most prolific on threes, the Warriors got on a third quarter run with Jordan Poole’s remarkable shooting to sprint ahead by 19 and 96-82 after three.

At 102-84 with about nine minutes left, it looked like the Warriors would’t have to bring back Curry like the Suns never did with Devin Booker Wednesday. But then Dragić made those two threes, and the chase was on in the new Chase Center. There were sweaty palms replacing high fives.

Dragić led the Bulls with 10 fourth quarter points while Javonte Green was a team best plus-12 in the fourth, scoring three times and setting up Vučević on a repost, which has not been a Bulls speciality. When LaVine dropped in a 26 footer with 2:27 left, the Bulls somehow were trailing 110-109.

No, this doesn’t look anything like a repeat for the Warriors.

But then with maybe a second left on the shot clock and Draymond Green with the hot potato after it moved around and the Bulls effectively chased it to another stop, Green shrugged and shot.

“If there is one guy you want shooting a three on Golden State, it’s Dre,” agreed LaVine. “But he has the confidence to do that; he’s a basketball player. He’s going to make big shots and has the confidence to do it; that’s the game.”

And it was the game, in effect.

DeRozan got a pullup attempt blocked by Curry and Thompson was fouled and made two for a 115-109 Warriors lead with 1:32 left. But the Bulls still had a real chance when Curry was called for his sixth foul on a LaVine drive. It looked like two free throws for LaVine. But Golden State challenged, and won the challenge. Curry stayed in the game. Dragić then outhustled the Warriors for the jump ball, but Vučević missed an open three on top. 

“A good look, felt good when it left my hands,” said Vučević. “Missed it. But we kept fighting and stayed in it. Obviously, we competed to the end, but we are not here for feel good losses; we are here to win. So we have to be better.”

Thompson at eight for 20 made it nine for 21, and Caruso’s three was blocked by Draymond Green to effectively end the game.

If not the discussions.

“Obviously, I don't think they should be happy or satisfied with it at all,” said LaVine. “I think Ayo came out and had a great game. I don’t think that's a coincidence. Even for Pat, you know he shouldn't be happy with it, but you know also it’s an opportunity (for Javonte).”

The Maginot Line was the series of borders in France to repel the Germans. The Great Wall was built to keep out the mongol army of Genghis Kahn. Neither held in the end. The Bulls are hoping this latest bulwark will prove sturdier for their purposes.

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