Same Old Problems, Donovan’s Decision-Making, At Least Zach Looked Good, and Other Bulls Bullets

The last two games I attended at the United Center:

– 111-81 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs
– 128-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night

Maybe it’s me?

  • Losing the third game of the season in blowout fashion isn’t reason enough to press the panic button, especially when we factor in that it was also the backend of a back-to-back. Having said that, we simply can’t ignore just how ugly things got. The Cleveland Cavaliers completely outplayed the Bulls on both ends of the floor. They played more consistently, more physically, more efficiently, and more explosively. For a Bulls team trying to prove that the offseason addition of Donovan Mitchell – who had an easy 32 points – will not leapfrog the Cavs past them in the playoff race, it was an exceptionally discouraging loss.
  • To be clear, I could care less about the Bulls sitting 1-2. The Heat and Raptors hold the same record, the 76ers are 0-3, and the freakin’ tanking Utah Jazz are 2-0. Worrying about the standings three games in isn’t worth our time. Worrying about what we’ve seen on the floor, however, is a different story. While there is a lot of time to clean up mistakes, the Bulls have been on their hands and knees scrubbing some of these stains since last season. Indeed, the same old issues reared their ugly head against Cleveland, as the Bulls shanked three after three (7-29) and couldn’t keep the Cavs from penetrating the paint (lost PITP battle 58-42).
  • The Bulls were hoping that internal development would fix these problems. But internal development can’t correct poor roster construction. The decision not to add more shooting and traditional size at power forward felt like a bad decision over the summer, and we saw why last night.
  • Now, to be fair, the Bulls did show a recipe for success against the Miami Heat. This involves frantic defensive play where players fly from side to side and jump passing lanes. This also involves a free-flowing offense where players are getting ahead of the defense in transition and moving decisively off the ball. When the lineup that featured Javonte Green, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmu did that last night, they got back into the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the team couldn’t keep that going for a full 48 minutes.
  • “The way we competed in that 3rd quarter, you know midway through where we kind of got back in the game … that’s how we have to play,” Donovan told reporters. “We’ve got to be scrappy and we’ve got to fight a lot harder collectively as a group. That segment there to start the game and that segment in the third is how we’re going to need to play for way way longer stretches.”

  • With that said, it wasn’t just about on-court execution. Head coach Billy Donovan deserves some of the blame for last night’s bummer. His decision to go with an all-bench lineup in the second quarter is what shoved the Bulls into an unscalable hole. They started the frame with Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Coby White, Derrick Jones Jr., and Andre Drummond on the floor down 34-25. With the Cavs still having starters Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Isaac Okoro on the floor, they quickly ballooned the lead to 41-28. Then, 49-32 by the time Ayo Dosunmu checked back in and 51-33 by the time DeMar DeRozan checked back in.
  • “I was disappointed because that’s not been the group that’s been in training group,” Donovan said about the all-bench lineup. “The one that happened to that group – that had been uncharacteristic – I thought the ball stopped moving. We didn’t help each other. One of the thing for us is we kind of need ball movement in each other.”

  • I also thought he missed the mark on not calling upon Zach LaVine in the 3rd quarter. I give Green, Caruso, and Dosunmu a ton of credit for cutting the Cavs’ lead down to single digits with 5:34 to go in the frame. However, there just wasn’t enough scoring in that backcourt to kick the comeback into high gear. Throwing LaVine – who looked pretty stinkin’ good – back into the lineup could have helped keep the momentum on Chicago’s side. Instead, he sat on the bench for the rest of the quarter (and played only a total of 28 minutes).
  • Speaking of LaVine, he was about the only bright spot for this group last night. The All-Star surely didn’t look like he was playing hurt, and he came out with the kind of aggressive scoring mentality we wanted to see. One can only hope we get a lot more of this Zach in the games to come.
  • LaVine also, fortunately, provided us with a positive update after the game. The All-Star said he felt in his element and does expect to play in Monday’s big game against Boston:
  • “Felt great,” told Sam Smith after the game. “When I play, I’m not going to hold anything back. It felt good to get out there. Preseason, I was just trying to get my feel again after not playing any organized basketball (since last season). Two knee surgeries in my ninth year, I’ve got to do a lot of rehab now. You guys know me, I like playing all the time. But you got to think big picture and what’s most important. So we’ll figure that out as it goes along. I expect to play Monday (against Boston).”

  • I want to enjoy my Sunday, so I’m going to keep my Patrick Williams thoughts brief. Both Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. clocked more minutes than the 21-year-old. For the second-straight game, he looked timid and confused. There is still plenty of time for him to find his footing, but there aren’t really any excuses to make for his lack of execution right now. If he can’t find a way to play more aggressively (just fight for rebounds and cut hard, dude!), he’s going to continue to see some short nights.
  • If the refs did their job, the Bulls probably would be 2-1. I hate sports.
  • At least the Bears can’t bum me out today.
  • Go Phillies, IMO.
  • written by

    Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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