At Least Zach LaVine Sounded Like the Leader the Bulls Need Him to be After Last Night's Loss

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At Least Zach LaVine Sounded Like the Leader the Bulls Need Him to be After Last Night’s Loss

Chicago Bulls

A positive takeaway from Monday night’s 112-103 loss to the Sacramento Kings was as hard to muster as a defensive stop on De’Aaron Fox. Then, Zach LaVine took the podium.

The Chicago Bulls All-Star minced zero words when asked about his team’s dismal first-half effort: “We didn’t start off the right way,” LaVine said. “We got punched in the mouth. We got to start punching these teams in the month.”

The Bulls might as well have been watching with the rest of us as the Kings outscored them 28-10 in the paint over the first two quarters. Chicago shots 36.6 percent from the field, relying on some uncharacteristic shot-taking as they turned the ball over 11 times. The 18 3-point shot attempts tied their 3rd-most in the first half of a game this season. They knocked down just five of those long-range buckets, struggling to play downhill and play to their established strengths.

LaVine was a significant part of that odd-ball decision-making. In fact, he may have been the greatest culprit. As the Kings doubled DeMar DeRozan and did everything they could to blockade his spots, LaVine failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Only two of LaVine’s eight-shot attempts came in the paint, and he walked into the locker room with 5 points to his name and a 20-point deficit.

The minute LaVine stepped back onto the floor to start the 3rd quarter, he looked like someone who realized his mistakes. And he owned up to as much after the game.

“I got to do a better job of just my mentality,” LaVine admitted. “I’m going out and I’m playing with some pain in my knee, but I got to have the right mindset. I can’t tiptoe into the game … I can put excuses out there, but I put that on myself where I made a mental decision in the 2nd half to go out there and play like me, and I got to start off that way.”

While it’s not as simple as one guy playing to his strengths, it’s hard not to think the Bulls could have walked out of there with a win if LaVine set the tone early. He found nothing but success in the 3rd quarter as he bulldozed through the Kings’ 28th-ranked defense. LaVine didn’t settle for a single 3-point shot, as he scored 12 points and dished 4 assists behind an 8-8 performance at the free-throw line.

DeMar DeRozan took after LaVine’s newly set tone. He dropped his own 11 points in the 4th quarter with six of his nine shot attempts coming within six feet of the basket. The Bulls’ offense was attacking in the way they should have from the start, and it eventually helped drag the Kings’ lead all the way down to one possession.

“We need to have those conversations, and get on point going into this last stretch because it’s not going to get any easier,” LaVine said. “We don’t know who’s going to be there, who’s going to be injured, who’s going to be in or out of the lineup, but we got to play the right way and have a certain identity.”

Of course, the Bulls’ failure to capitalize on the comeback opportunity sours the work they put in. But when we look back at LaVine’s second-half determination and his postgame commentary, I think we find a silver lining: This might be most LaVine has felt like a true leader in his career.

We’ve seen a somber LaVine, a frustrated LaVine, and a straight-forward LaVine. He’s never been anything but honest about where the organization stands. However, there was just something different about how he carried himself last night. There was a blend of on-court execution and postgame accountability where we didn’t have to question that he understood every bit of what went wrong.

Maybe it’s recency bias on my part or maybe I can’t describe it in the way I want, but I know the feeling I had listening to what LaVine had to say last night was different than any feeling I’ve had listening to him before. He protruded the same kind of composed dissatisfaction that we see from the league’s top stars. There were no excuses, no fluff, and no “let’s get this over with” answers. That dude sounded like someone who wanted to make clear that what happened was unacceptable and that he wasn’t going to let it happen again.

Whether or not that comes to fruition is something only time can tell. But on a night where the Bulls went backward, it felt like LaVine may have taken a step forward in his superstar development. I’ll take that.

Check out LaVine’s full press conference below:

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.