The Bulls were led by Zach LaVine on offense in this one. He put up 29 points on 12/21 shooting from the field. He also added six rebounds and six assists to the stat sheet. Thaddeus Young put up 16 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in his 1,000th career game.
The Bulls came out firing as they have done in the past two games with the new starting lineup including Tomas Satoransky and Young. The Bulls made five of their first six three-point shots in the first quarter. Young had six points in the first quarter and Sato assisted the first two buckets (ended with seven assists).
Their offense was performing wonderfully because they were taking their time on possessions. They worked with each other well in the first quart then LaVine took over his own offense in the second to give him 15 points at the halfway mark.
Bulls 58, Spurs 40 at half
LaVine 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Young 10 points, 6 rebounds
Bulls have 15 assists
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 18, 2021
The Bulls’ ended the first half with an 18-point lead. They held the Spurs to just 40 points at the half which may be the lowest they have kept a team in a half this entire season. The defense was impeccable. They out-rebounded the Spurs 30-25, had more points in the paint, and forced them to shoot 31.3 percent from the field.
How did the Bulls lose this game? Falling asleep on offense, sloppy turnovers, and failing to break the Spurs’ full-court defense during the late portions of the game.
After the third quarter, the Spurs cut the lead to 13 points which was no need to hit the panic button yet. Midway through the third quarter and at the start of the fourth, however, the Spurs put the pressure on with a full-court press and half-court traps. The Spurs have the ninth-best defense in the NBA, allowing just 110.4 points per game.
This allowed them to go on a 17-0 run in the fourth. The Spurs scored 17 points on fast breaks and nine points off of turnovers. The Bulls scored just four points on fast break opportunities but capitalized for 17 points off of turnovers.
The Bulls got sloppy in the fourth quarter. After having six turnovers in the first half, they gave up 11 in the second half. Three straight turnovers near the end of the fourth put the final nail in the coffin for the Bulls’ loss. The running theme of failing to close games continues onward.
An absolutely awful fourth quarter by the Bulls here will cost them a game they should have won. And with Denver on deck on the road Friday, this is a horrible loss.
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) March 18, 2021
Their mental toughness failed them. I don’t usually like to dive into arguments based on ethos, but this one was relatively clear. Once the Bulls realized that they were giving up the lead and the Spurs put on their full-court defense, they panicked.
Take a look at the offense in the first half. The ball was moving, Satoransky and Young were making passes, and the Bulls were hitting open looks they created for each other. Once the pressure came on from the Spurs, it was LaVine’s offense the rest of the way.
The Bulls cannot rely on LaVine to bring them back into every game. It’s a team game. Relax. Understand that they gave up the lead and work to take it back. The Spurs are a great team that is now ranked seventh in the competitive Western Conference. The Bulls failed to figure out their defense and remain present in the game.
“Once they turned up the pressure and the heat, we had a very difficult time getting into offense. I think we did not move and cut well enough. Everybody has to contribute to helping in that area. We got caught watching him (Zach LaVine) and we become very easy to guard in that way,” said head coach Billy Donovan after the game.
Another important aspect comes from the shooting stats. The Bulls went 40/91 from the field and 11/33 from distance. The Spurs went 38/89 from the field and 8/31 from behind the arc. Where’s the difference? How did the Bulls lose then? Free throws.
The Spurs shot 30 free throws against the Bulls and made 22 of them. The Bulls shot nine. Optimistically, they made eight of the nine they took. With that, they need to drive to the rim. LaVine was the first to shoot free throws during the fourth quarter of the game.
The Bulls were hot from three to start the game as they went 5/6 from downtown. They made six of their next 27 attempts. See where I’m going? Recognizing that the three-point shot went cold and driving to the paint was miscalculated in this game. This won’t just get you to the free-throw line but will also create more open opportunities from distance.
Lesson learned. Leads are meant to be blown. Don’t panic. Work together and go back to what worked best in the first half which was passing/cutting and aggressive defense. The Bulls will hit the road to take on the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.