First things first, let’s appreciate Zach LaVine:
• I think this is something we all knew LaVine was capable of, but that didn’t make experiencing it any less special. The Atlanta Hawks literally had zero answers for LaVine, as he knocked down almost every kind of bucket in his repertoire during the first half alone. He hit pull-up 3’s, off-balance jumpers, mid-range fadeaways, acrobatic layups, and he got to the free-throw line for six attempts. It was a full-blown offensive showcase – one that only a select few in the NBA could even dream of pulling off. It was also a performance that helped demonstrate exactly why this front office decided to commit to the 26-year-old moving forward. LaVine has put just one foot into his prime years, and he’s already accomplishing feats that only three players have done in the last 25 years. So … yeah … I think Arturas Karnisovas made a good choice.
Most points in 1st half since 1996
1. 42 Kobe Bryant (3/28/03)
2. 40 Klay Thompson (12/5/16)
3. 39 Zach LaVine (tonight)
— Kevin Anderson (@Kevin_NBCS) April 10, 2021
• By the way, I’m not sure I can fall in line with anyone out wants to blame LaVine for the Bulls collapse. He partnered his 50-point performance with 5 assists, 8 rebounds, and just one personal foul. Nothing about last night’s Bulls loss was because of him. LaVine put his team in a position to succeed, and (in a familiar fashion) he didn’t receive the help he needed. Nikola Vucevic was the only other player to offer a helping hand with his third double-double in the last four games. He played at the level the Bulls expect him to. Everyone else? Not so much.
“I think we actually got some pretty good looks, out of their blitz on Zach,” Vucevic told reporters after the game. “Even at the times when they would send two people on him as soon as he crossed halfcourt, I thought he made the right play of hitting the next guy that was open, and we actually got some very good looks, we just didn’t know them down. Maybe if we do knock some of those down we’re able to keep our lead and it’s a different game. It’s part of it, you gotta make shots in this league.”
• Preach, Vooch. The Bulls supporting cast let down their All-Star teammate last night – plain and simple. In the second half when the defense threw the house at LaVine, he got the ball out of his hands only to be provided with a combined FOUR points from his fellow starters. Almost all players lacked a sense of urgency or aggressiveness to score the basketball, with Coby White being the only guy to exploit the defense’s extra attention on his teammate (11 points in 4th quarter).
Hawks coach Nate McMillan said gameplan in second half was to get ball out of Zach LaVine’s hands and force other Bulls to make plays. Liked the way they executed traps.
After historic 39-point first half, LaVine had 11 on 5-12 shooting in the second.
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) April 10, 2021
• I saw some say that LaVine should have worked harder to get his teammates involved from the jump, but I have to imagine those teammates were just going to keep feeding the hot hand anyway. Also, are we really going to get mad at LaVine for single-handedly giving his team a 13-point lead at halftime?
Zach LaVine: "It sucks man. I'd much rather take the win."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 10, 2021
• Why you gotta even tweet this out, StatMuse?
Zach LaVine is 10-11 when scoring 30 points this season.
He is the only player with a losing record among players with 10+ 30-point games. pic.twitter.com/ONAfdpgeTy
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 10, 2021
• By the way, LaVine’s supporting cast doesn’t just include the guys on the court. Head coach Billy Donovan played his own role in the team’s disappointing loss thanks to some wonky decision-making. With the Hawks up one point with just under six minutes to go, Donovan turned to his 3-big lineup of Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young, and Vucevic. The Hawks quickly took advantage of the lineup’s lack of speed and mobility, extending their lead to six in the blink of an eye and snatching practically all of the momentum. Then, down eight with roughly 3 minutes to go, Coby White entered the game for what would be some incredibly important defensive possessions.
• Troy Brown Jr. – arguably the team’s most pesky perimeter defender – clocked just 15 minutes total and only 3:49 in the second half. Meanwhile, the team’s best interior defender, Daniel Theis, saw just 12 minutes of action. Coby White and Lauri Markkanen played 29 minutes and 27 minutes, respectively. I’m not sure anything can convince me that this isn’t a bizarre decision. The Hawks are the 9th-best offense in the league and, at one point, went on a 21-4 run (they also outscored the Bulls 66-26 in the paint). Isn’t it as easy as playing your best defenders sometimes?
• FWIW: Here was Donovan’s explanation for the 3-big lineup. At least he had one, I guess.
Billy Donovan on why he played 3-big lineup with #Bulls trailing by 1 mid-4th: "Just went a little bit bigger to try to one put some size on the ball with them, especially with Trae Young — and then just the other part of it was just having Lauri out there to stretch the floor."
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 10, 2021
• Anyway, Arturas Karnisovas said after the trade deadline that this team isn’t done for a reason. The Bulls need a ballhandler that can help take the pressure of LaVine when he’s getting blitzed, and they need better ball stoppers to clean things up on the defensive end. I look forward to seeing what the front office does to feel those gaps this offseason. In the meantime, the Bulls are still on a winnable 10-game stretch (they weren’t going to steal them all), and we can still all enjoy the LaVine-Vooch connection.