Bulls observations: Zach LaVine's 50 points not enough vs. Hawks

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Rob Schaefer
·6 min read
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Bulls observations: LaVine's 50 points not enough vs. Hawks originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls (22-29) had a three-game win streak snapped with a 120-108 loss at the Atlanta Hawks (28-25), who played without a cast of characters, including John Collins.

Here are 15 observations:

1. Zach LaVine entered play averaging 19.8 points and shooting 40.4 percent from the floor since the trade deadline.

You knew that wouldn't last.

To say that LaVine had one of those nights might be understating matters. In the game's opening 130 seconds, he scored the Bulls' first 10 points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting (two 3-pointers). He finished the first quarter with 14 points, but things really picked up in the second, when he poured in another 25 to end the first half with 39 points on 13-for-19 shooting, 7-for-9 from 3-point range. Outrageous shot-making. Outrageous efficiency.

That's the most points scored by any NBA player in a half this season, and the first first-half 30-piece by a Bull since Michael Jordan in 1997. Those 25 points came all in a row for the Bulls between the 9:28 and 2:51 mark of the second.

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Early in the third quarter, he had his fourth 40-point game of the season. He finished with a career-high 50 points, the first 50-piece by a Bull since Jimmy Butler back in 2017.

"It was special. I don't think I've ever been a part of something like that," Nikola Vučević said of LaVine's outing. "It looked so easy."

2. The Hawks, of course, dialed up the defensive focus on LaVine as the game wore on, sending double- and triple-teams his direction with regularity. He handed out 5 assists in the second half, but scored just 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

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3. As for the rest of the game... The Bulls' offense hummed behind LaVine early on. They dished 11 assists in the first quarter and entered the halftime break ahead 66-53, shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 10-for-15 from 3-point range.

4. But things sputtered in the second half as the Hawks threw the kitchen sink at LaVine, and he and the team struggled to adjust. The Bulls scored just 18 points in the third quarter, shooting 38.1 percent (1-for-11 from deep) and committing four turnovers.

"They were up high in pick-and-roll coverage. They were basically sitting Solomon Hill at half court," Billy Donovan said. "For the most part, I didn’t think we adjusted to it very well in the third quarter, and that’s why we lost the lead."

5. Spotty defensive returns from the first half flared up in third as well. The Hawks scored 33 points and shot 65 percent in the period to vault ahead 86-84 entering the fourth. Trae Young scored 17 of those points, nearly matching the Bulls' output as a team.

6. The Bulls responded to open a 99-92 lead at the 8:47 mark of the fourth, but a 21-4 Hawks run over the next six minutes pushed them ahead for good. Danilo Gallinari played hero, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the fourth. The Hawks, as a team, shot 60 percent in the final frame.

7. The Hawks won the second half 67-42, outshooting the Bulls 62.5 percent to 42.5 percent from the field. That's the Bulls' 17th loss in 27 tries this season in "clutch" games, defined as contests that fall within a five-point margin with five minutes or less to play. And another defeat at the hands of an above-.500 team.

8. Young poured 37 points on the Bulls in these teams' first meeting in December, and finished with 42 points on 15-for-25 shooting (plus 9 assists) in this one despite an uncharacteristically off night from 3-point range (1-for-6). He feasted in the pick-and-roll -- the Bulls entered play 29th in the NBA defending pick-and-roll ballhandlers -- from floater range, where he converted 10 of 12 attempts, and the free-throw line, from which he shot 11-for-14.

9. Trouble guarding screen-and-roll actions trickled into the paint defense, where the Bulls allowed 66 Hawks points by night's end. Atlanta's bigs -- especially Clint Capela, who scored 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting  -- thrived slamming home lobs all night. As Steph Noh later (aptly) pointed out on Twitter, the Bulls are dead last in the NBA defending pick-and-roll roll men to boot.

"I think our communication could have been a little bit better," Vučević said. "They were getting almost whatever they wanted in two-man game."

10. Vučević secured his 34th double-double of the season (and third in fourth games) in the third quarter, and finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists.

11. That means the Bulls' two All-Stars combined for 75 points on 29-for-50 shooting. The rest of the Bulls: 33 points on 12-for-36.

12. To be fair: Though Tomáš Satoranský went scoreless, he was once again brilliant as a table-setter early, slinging 10 assists.

13. And Coby White, who had some really tough moments trying to corral Young, rebounded to score 11 points in the fourth quarter after shooting 0-for-5 from the floor through three.

14. The Hawks lost the 3-point line by 18 points but still won by 12, an indication of how much they dominated the game inside the arc.

15. The loss snaps a season-high-tying three-game winning streak for the Bulls and drops them two games back of the Indiana Pacers for ninth in the East.

"This was a great opportunity. We’ve been playing really good. We played a really, really gold half. It just sucks, man," LaVine said. "I’d much rather take the win right now (than 50 points)."

Next up for the Bulls: At the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

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