Bulls observations: Win streak halted in Cavs blowout originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bulls (24-34) dropped a game they needed to win in resounding fashion, 121-105 at the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-37).
And don't be fooled by the final margin: The Cavaliers led by as many as 33 points in the second half.
Here are 11 observations:
1. To say the Bulls got off to a listless start would be an understatement. The first quarter was probably their worst in the season, a period which they ended down 34-12, shot 35.3 percent (0-for-8 from 3) and committed a whopping seven turnovers. Twelve points scored marks their lowest point total, and worst point-differential, in a non-overtime quarter of the season. They scored just two points in the final 6 minutes, 55 seconds of the frame.
2. While the Bulls entered play 2-1 since Zach LaVine entered COVID-19 health and safety protocol, tonight showed just how badly they miss his presence. Even with a spurt to end the second quarter, the offense sputtered to 44 points in the first half, committing 12 turnovers against 15 made field goals. They trailed 61-44 at the break, but the deficit climbed as high as 25.
3. Speedy guards continue to confound the Bulls. Collin Sexton posted 17 points and five assists in the first half. Darius Garland -- who averaged 22 points and 10.5 assists across their first two meetings -- added nine points and three dimes and was an absolute pest in the pick-and-roll.
They hardly slowed down in the second half, combining for 18 points in the third quarter and 55 on the night, with Garland really diving into his bag of tricks in the second half. Sexton notched 30 points (11-for-18 shooting, 3-for-6 from 3) and seven assists; Garland poured in 25 points (8-for-13 shooting, 4-for-4 from 3), four dimes and two steals. As it has in many games this season for the Bulls, their issues began at the point of attack.
4. Somewhat in that vein: The Bulls were without Troy Brown Jr., who sprained his ankle in the second half of the Celtics game Monday, for this one. Even averaging less than 20 minutes since arriving in Chicago, his defensive motor on the perimeter has been a boon, so his absence was noteworthy. Billy Donovan termed Brown doubtful for Thursday against the Charlotte Hornets (the second night of a back-to-back) before the game, but added he doesn't believe the injury to be a severe one.
5. Still, this was an alarmingly flat performance fresh off a two-game winning streak and practice session on Tuesday, the latter of which is rare in the NBA's condensed calendar. The Bulls are fighting every game for their play-in lives, and got buried in most every facet of the game.
6. No one on the Bulls played particularly well, either. Lauri Markkanen became the team's first player in double-figures at the 1:49 mark of the third quarter.
7. Patrick Williams represented the closest thing to a silver lining through three quarters. He notched nine points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal in 19 minutes before not logging a minute in the fourth.
8. The remarkably steady Vučević had his first true off night as a Bull. After scoring the team's first six points, he finished with just nine points on 4-for-12 shooting, 1-for-5 from deep, halting a nine-game heater (53.7 percent from deep on six attempts per game) entering play. Though typically a responsible decision-maker, he also committed five of the Bulls' 19 turnovers.
9. After holding opponents under 100 points in two straight games, there was a lot of talk about reinvigorated defense. But the Cavaliers scored their 121 points on 51.1 percent shooting, 16-for-36 from long range. The Bulls tried different coverages in the second half, including some zone early in the fourth (a look Donovan has used in the past when in search of a boost) but the Cavaliers never stalled in a meaningful way.
10. Turnovers didn't help in that regard. The Cavaliers generated 23 points off of 20 Bulls turnovers -- the return of an old bugaboo for this team.
11. The Bulls trimmed their deficit to as few as 15 in the fourth quarter by way of a too-little-too-late spurt. Markkanen (14 points, six rebounds), Tomáš Satoranský (13 points, three assists) and Thad Young (14 points, eight rebounds, three assists) all improved their stat lines in mop-up minutes. Cristiano Felício and Al-Farouq Aminu got off the bench early in the final frame.
Standings update (as of the Bulls' final buzzer): The Pacers, Raptors and, of course, Cavaliers all won their games Wednesday. That moves the Raptors into 10th place in the East and a half-game up on the Bulls. The Pacers in ninth lead the Bulls 2.5 games; the Cavaliers in 12th trail them by three.
The Bulls have 14 games remaining on their regular-season slate. Next up: Home for the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday.