When the Bulls lost the lead with 8:45 left in their regular season opener on Wednesday night, my eye started to twitch. Fourth quarter collapses became second nature for the Bulls last season, and I guess I’ve never really recovered (Chicago had a bottom-five Net Rating in the final frame and winning percentage in games that were within five points with 5 minutes to go last year).
So when Kelly Olynyk hit that layup to give an underwhelming Detroit Pistons squad the advantage, I could not help but fear that history was about to repeat itself. After all that dang hype, too.
But was Zach LaVine nervous? Nah. He’s got a very different take on these Bulls.
“This ain’t last year. We’re looking forward now. This is a whole new team, a whole new mindset. So I’m excited we grinded that one out. A win is a win,” LaVine said.
He’s right, this isn’t last year’s Bulls team, and the final few minutes of action screamed that in our face.
After Olynyk tied the game, and Hamidou Diallo kept the momentum on Detroit’s side with a massive and-one layup in transition, the Chicago Bulls used their new talent to their advantage. DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball each added a quick 5 points, to go along with LaVine’s 8, to push the Bulls to a 94-88 victory.
Contributions also came on the opposite side of the floor as the Bulls held the Pistons to just two points from the 7:17 mark to the 1:28 mark in the quarter. It was the kind of two-way clutch execution that we see as a staple on winning teams. And, damn, was it encouraging.
“We showed a lot of heart by just digging down, figuring [it] out, playing hard,” DeRozan said after the game. “Didn’t let really nothing affect us. We got down a few times, they made a few runs, but we didn’t let that frustrate us. We kept digging in the right direction, and that says a lot right there to do that on the road in the first game of the season.”
While this might only be Game 1 of 82, it’s hard to imagine this kind of mentality going anywhere. If anything, it normally takes a new team time to gain composure and trust in crunch time. But the Bulls’ ability to show both those things on the first night of action demonstrates the difference in talent and chemistry that resides on this roster.
The team will still have to prove that they can accomplish this outcome consistently against more fierce competition. However, the next time a back-and-forth affair in the final quarter presents itself, I think I might actually be able to take LaVine’s advice and look forward, not back.