The Bulls continued to have their weaknesses exposed by an undermanned Philadelphia squad, and All-Star Joel Embiid was front and center in doing so, scoring 30 for the visiting team.
The Bulls don’t have the three-point shooting of Philadelphia.
That was once again on display Saturday night, with a 7-for-29 (24.1%) reminder.
They still lack the discipline to play 48 minutes of consistent basketball against the Eastern Conference elite.
That’s been showcased in three games in the early part of this season, now twice against Philadelphia and also against New York.
And they certainly don’t have an Embiid. Few do.
The 76ers big man once again reminded them of that, not only hitting the dagger with 15 seconds left in the 114-105 Philadelphia win, but then Joel Embiid actually waving goodbye to the United Center crowd in mocking fashion, after doing so with 30 points and 15 rebounds as his final stat line.
And while it was by no means a setback to the big picture of what this 6-3 Bulls team can be by April, it was a message that the 6-1 start may have been more mirage than reality.
“The last two times we’ve played them, they made twice as many threes,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “You don’t want to put Vooch [Nikola Vucevic] on an island with Embiid, but we have to do a better job of closing out [threes].”
Considering Philadelphia (8-2) went 13-for-26 from three in their latest win, yes, it was an almost pick a poison night.
What angered the home crowd in the end is there was an argument that could have been made that Embiid shouldn’t have been in position to even wave goodbye.
With just over 40 seconds left until halftime, Embiid dribbled the ball off his leg, and was so angry with himself, decided to throw a hook at the air. The problem was Lonzo Ball was walking into that airspace and the punch appeared to graze him. The Bulls were down 54-45 at the time, and the play was reviewed, only getting a technical.
The other punch?
The Sixers were without shooter Danny Green (hamstring), and had Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle in the health and safety protocol. Forget the fact that they were still dealing with the ongoing soap opera that is Ben Simmons.
Coach Doc Rivers was no stranger to coaching in chaos, but this might be his best job navigating it, especially with how much there has been this early in the season.
“When you look at all the stuff, the clutter I like to call it, around the team, and we’ve ignored it,” Rivers said. “If I could say one thing about this team so far, and it’s early, just the togetherness they have. It’s a really close group and all this stuff has kind of made them hunker in with each other and it’s been good so far.
“Some teams do handle it well, some don’t. I just know personally I don’t focus on it. I don’t talk about who’s not playing.”
While the Bulls remained relatively “clutter-free” so far this season, they still have some serious growing pains they continue working through.
Specifically, staying connected both offensively and defensively throughout an entire game.
While the hole wasn’t as deep as it was in Boston and then Philadelphia earlier this week, a 14-point third-quarter deficit was still a hole that they seemed to be clawing out of most of the night.
“When we’re not shooting the ball well, we’ve certainly got to find other means to win the game,” Donovan said.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 32, DeMar DeRozan had 25, and Derrick Jones Jr. sparked the Bulls with 12 off the bench.
“Once we get down we decide to get more physical, decide to run and play downhill,” Jones said afterward. “We’ve just got to start earlier.
“We’ll take it as a challenge.”