Zach LaVine torches Nets in 4th quarter, Bulls beat Brooklyn 108-99

The last time we really saw Zach LaVine he was Dr. J. and Dominique. This time, especially with Tuesday’s 108-99 Bulls win over the Broken, err Brooklyn Nets, LaVine was Steph Curry.

I’ll take that trade. And in the long run, it may be a lot better for the Bulls and LaVine.

Because as a shot making sensation, LaVine carried the Bulls from a fourth quarter deficit and late third-quarter double digit shortfall with 20 fourth-quarter points to outscore the Nets of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on his own in the quarter.

Just about all that was missing with LaVine’s four threes, four free throws and six of 10 overall shooting in the fourth was Curry’s head-resting-on-the-pillow pantomime to send the Nets to a nightmare with his Curry-esque 30 footer from the top of the circle with 3:04 left.

That was the final ballast to give the Bulls a 106-94 lead and assure they’d be returning home Wednesday to play the Charlotte Hornets with the record back up at 4-4.

“It’s part of the game when you hit big shots,” said LaVine, who has recorded many, if not so many this season, in his halting return from summer knee surgery.

Zach LaVine takes and hits a fourth quarter three-point over Nets forward Yuta Wantanabe.

LaVine was playing in the first of the back-to-back set, but probably won’t play Wednesday since the team has signaled he’ll skip one end of the back-to-backs so that he doesn’t have to later in the season.

“I really wanted to play,” LaVine confirmed. “These games matter, especially against a team like this. I’m glad I’m feeling this well. With a little bit of management and me giving them a push that I wanted to play — us being shorthanded (Coby White and Andre Drummond out) might’ve helped my cause —hopefully that gives me a little bit more rope. It’s between me, the coaching staff, (management and medical) to manage it and do it the right way and have a plan. It’s my fifth game back. I’m feeling better and better each game.

“You get caught up in the game,” LaVine added. “It’s emotional. We were all being vocal in the timeouts and encouraging each other. I felt good a lot of the game, getting back to a rhythm. We were aggressive.”

It’s a familiar scoring role, albeit a different look, and one that even if LaVine protests at times probably will serve him better in the long run because he is so talented.

Zach LaVine scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Nets in the final period.

LaVine has been one of the great athletic marvels of the NBA, a two-time All-Star slam dunk champion before he was 22. And then coming off anterior cruciate knee surgery in 2018, LaVine returned to similar spectacular slams in games, which is more difficult. No athlete in American sports history likely has returned from that most severe of knee surgeries in such a sublime and seductive way.

Though that hasn’t been the LaVine we’ve mostly seen in his return thus far after missing the first two games of the season for post surgical precautions. LaVine has gotten shots blocked, as he did again Tuesday, and which we’d rarely seen before. He basically finishes all his drives now as layups, also a previous rarity.

But LaVine is such a gifted talent that he can produce in other ways, which he did against the Nets with speed on drives. That was reminiscent of Derrick Rose, who since his multiple knee surgeries plays mostly land based, but retains his immutable quickness. And then with the result in doubt after the Nets took an 88-84 lead with 8:44 left, LaVine went all Steph.

He banged in a three, and the after two nice scoring drives by Ayo Dosunmu and a three from Alex Caruso, LaVine made a 10 footer, a pull-up three, another three from a bit farther out, drove and was fouled for a pair of free throws, and then even farther out dropped his fourth three pointer of the quarter with a mere flick of the wrist, the ball disappearing through the netting like a rock descending in a well.

And speaking of dark places...

That would be the Nets franchise, which was all the rage during the TNT Bulls-Nets broadcast Tuesday with coach Steve Nash fired earlier in the day and Kyrie Irving going on a media boycott after being caught on social media reproducing some offensive comments and basically quitting during the game.

Coming into the game, Irving, who some like Trailblazers coach Chauncey Billups called the most skilled point guard in NBA history, was averaging 30 points. Irving was scoreless through three quarters, rarely looking to shoot in his first scoreless first half in four years. He finished with four points on two of 12 shooting. I’ve seen players do this in periods of angst, Kobe Bryant once in a playoff game after being accused of playing selfishly. OK, then you score!

Irving is under siege for his latest disruption, and the popular TNT broadcasters piled on. Charles Barkley didn’t understand why he wasn’t suspended while naming many players who were either fined or suspended for similar behavior. Reggie Miller on the game broadcast made a particularly salient point, calling out the Nets and NBA players for hypocrisy. After all, Miller noted, the players are quick to condemn team owners by name for repulsive remarks and run them out of the league. But then, as Miller said, “crickets” when it’s a player. The players association issued a statement condemning hate speech, but didn’t mention Irving by name.

It’s maybe not as bad as when the Dodgers moved to LA and Nathan’s shrunk the size of the hot dogs, but times are bad in Brooklyn. The dissonance was deafening.

Kevin Durant soldiered on with 32 points, but perhaps it was a good omen for the NBA. Our bete noire is the Super Team, and perhaps this signals the end: KD, Kyrie and Harden/Simmons; LeBron, AD and Russ; Kawhi, PG-13 and Ballmer. Team ball, anyone?

Disgraced former Boston coach Ime Udoka has been rumored as Nash’s replacement. Just perfect.

The Bulls weren’t, though they had at least one good start to the game.

That would be the start of the game, a 15-7 lead thanks to aggressive play from Dosunmu and hard work from Patrick Williams on Durant.

“Ayo even in his second year is a vocal leader on our team,” said LaVine. ‘He helps us pick up our energy. In the fourth quarter he also came up with some giant steals.”

Dosunmu had 17 points and DeMar DeRozan 20 points. Williams had a dozen points and Goran Dragić a crucial 15 with four of six threes in a game saving second quarter when it looked like the Nets might run the table. And then when the Bulls had that problem to start again, this time the second half with the Nets taking a 58-52 halftime lead quickly to 68-56 and 76-65 late in the third quarter. But a 12-4 Bulls close to the third with DeRozan getting on track got the Bulls to trail 80-77 after three. 

Goran Dragić finished with 15 points off the bench, hitting four three-pointers in the victory.

LaVine’s 20 fourth quarter points among his 29 to 19 in the fourth for the Nets might even have LaVine taking up golf.

“For us, it was sticking with it the whole game,” said LaVine. “They got up a little on us, but we have the mentality to always come back and we had the time to do that.”

Again for the Bulls, it was the shock troops as the Bulls out hustled and outplayed a dispirited Nets group down the stretch. Alex Caruso dived to save a loose ball amidst Nets spectators. Dosunmu played free safety to intercept Durant. The Bulls had 11 offensive rebounds in the game, several in one sequence as “center” Derrick Jones Jr. kept balls alive to continue to cut down the Nets. 

There were for the Bulls many shining moments.

The Bulls outrebounded the Nets 45-38 led by Nikola Vučević’s 15, dug out a 20-6 edge on second chance points and 15-7 with fast breaks. The Bulls showing extra help on Durant left themselves open for threes again, and the Nets made a dozen. But thanks to LaVine and Dragić the Bulls matched that, and then could disabuse the Nets of their hopes for victory with their gauntlet of disruptive reserves.

The 2-6 Nets were without Ben Simmons and Seth Curry and playing the second of a back to back. So who cares? The Bulls stayed in Manhattan and had to bus to Brooklyn, which can be a six-hour ride at times.

All the more time for someone like LaVine to get his feet on the ground. It’s not a bad look.

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