Observations: Bulls near-comeback falls short against 76ers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bulls (26-39) went down by as many as 23 points to the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21) Monday night at the United Center, then threatened a comeback that ultimately fell short in a 106-94 defeat. It's the Bulls' fourth straight loss, and fifth in six games.
Here are 11 observations:
1. It was another slow start for the Bulls, who trailed 34-20 after 12 minutes. The 76ers shot 71.4 percent in the period, slung nine assists and sprinted out to eight points on the fastbreak. The Bulls, meanwhile, made 33.3 percent of their shots, and for the sixth time in their last eight games scored 20 points or less in the first quarter.
2. How good is the 76ers' defense, which entered play rated second in the NBA? They committed their first personal foul at the 8:02 mark of the second quarter. On the night, they held the Bulls to 40.7 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers with their rare blend of length, physicality and activity.
3. There aren't many better defenders, if any, in the league than Ben Simmons, and he matched up with Coby White most of the night. White committed two turnovers in his first-quarter stint, setting the tone for a 2-for-9 shooting, three-turnover line through three quarters. He would eventually flip around his performance, which we'll get to shortly, but Simmons' third and final steal of the night -- a pick-six off an inbounds play inside the final minute -- was a dagger in the Bulls' comeback hopes.
4. Chalk up some of the Bulls' early offensive woes to Nikola Vučević missing his second straight game with hip soreness, and Zach LaVine missing his 11th straight due to his entrance into the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Before the game, Billy Donovan expressed optimism LaVine could return Thursday when the Bulls visit Charlotte to face the Hornets. The Bulls will monitor how Vučević responds over the next two days.
5. The 76ers' starting sharpshooters led the charge for a time. Danny Green (14 points, 4-for-8 from 3) and Seth Curry (17 points, 3-for-5 from 3) combined for 31 points and seven 3-poiners in the game's first three quarters, keying runs at the beginning of the first and third, respectively.
6. The Bulls, meanwhile, struggled for much in the way of offensive juice, as would be expected on a night they played without their All-Stars... That is, until the fourth quarter.
7. The Bulls forged a 24-6 run over the first five minutes of the final frame to trim an at one time 23-point deficit to 88-87 with seven minutes to play. White was the hero, scoring 11 points, canning three 3-pointers and slinging three assists in that span -- a nuclear offensive span. Denzel Valentine hit back-to-back triples to force a Doc Rivers timeout at that seven-minute mark.
8. White scored 15 points in the fourth quarter without a turnover, and finished the night with 23 points, five assists and a 5-for-10 line from 3-point range. Inside the arc was a bit thornier, given the 76ers strength on the interior.
9. Actually, perhaps that hero distinction should go to Javonte Green. Donovan turned to the dynamic, 6-foot-4 off-guard late in the third quarter in search of a spark, and it's safe to say he found it. Green posted seven points (3-for-4 shooting), three rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes, finishing +13 in a 12-point loss, and used hustle plays galore to help spearhead the Bulls' ultimately ill-fated run.
Green has lived outside the rotation since coming over from the Celtics at the trade deadline, but is always a fun, hard-playing player to watch. Tonight, he brought an energy and effort level that his teammates hadn't approached through three quarters, and that caught the 76ers, hoping to coast, off guard for a few minutes.
10. Rivers answered the Bulls' fourth-quarter surge by re-inserting Embiid (who finished an uncharacteristic 4-for-13 from the field), Simmons, Tobias Harris (21 points, 10-for-13 shooting), Curry and Green, and the 76ers finished the night 18-7 to preserve what is really a crucial victory for them in their race for the top seed in the East. The Bulls shot 2-for-8 in the final seven minutes in the fourth.
11. Al-Farouq Aminu, again, found his way into the 10-man rotation for 16 minutes and flashed some savvy defense. He had also been relegated from the rotation before the recent spat of injuries. Donovan said after the game he thought Lauri Markkanen (2-for-8) shooting still isn't 100 percent after missing a recent game due to illness.
Standings update: The Wizards dropped 154 points in a victory over the Pacers Monday, pushing them four games ahead for the final play-in spot with seven games to play. The Raptors, who beat the Lakers Sunday, sit one game ahead of the Bulls for 11th in the East.
Steve Kornacki gave the Bulls about a one percent chance of making the play-in before this one tipped. One shudders to think of their chances now.
Lottery update: These feel appropriate at this juncture, given the Bulls only retain their 2021 first-round pick if it falls in the top four by way of the Vučević trade. As of this result, they own the seventh-worst record in the league, giving them a 31.9 percent chance of vaulting into the top four, and 7.5 percent shot at landing the No. 1 overall pick.
Next up: Thursday at the Charlotte Hornets -- potentially, the game Zach LaVine returns.