The Bulls have been very honest and open all year about still being in the process of evaluating the PG position. Despite some explosive offensive developments from Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, it is clear the team could use more capable passers. And just how badly the Bulls need to add a playmaker–whether it be a PG-sized player or not–was on display on Friday night.
Doc Rivers has the Clippers playing with a lot of confidence and over the last 10 games, they have the 12th best defensive rating in the league (108.2). But that didn’t stop the Bulls from shooting a very efficient 56.8 percent from the field in the first half and Dunn was a solid part of that success.
After playing quite tentative in the first, Dunn woke up in the 2nd quarter, scoring 9 PTS which included going 3/3 from the free throw line. Most important was the fact that he looked aggressive at moments attacking the basket. Dunn has been noticeably less aggressive when attacking the basket, and is averaging 3.6 less drives per game since the All-Star break, so it is excellent to see him get to the basket and finish through contact.
Kris gets three points the old fashioned way 💪 pic.twitter.com/tJn5H5xGpp
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 16, 2019
However in the third quarter, the Clippers came out with a tremendous amount of intensity, forcing 8 Bulls turnovers. Their ball pressure only further exposed the Bulls playmaking woes, which became magnified once Ryan Arcidiacono went down after being hit with a hard screen from Montrezl Harrell.
Ryan Arcidiacono takes a hard Screen pic.twitter.com/xEjiswAgFm
— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) March 16, 2019
UPDATE: Ryan Arcidiacono is being evaluated for a hit in the first half and is questionable to return.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 16, 2019
In that same third quarter, Lauri Markkanen–who is in the middle of a ice-cold shooting slump–had zero shot attempts in just over seven minutes of playing time. Though Markkanen obviously has to be aggressive in demanding the ball, he also (obviously) needs his teammates to seek him out when is open (especially when coming off of screens), something Stacey King pointed out many times during the broadcast.
Markkanen ultimately scored 10 PTS in 28 minutes on only eight field goal attempts. He did shot 2/3 from the 3PT line but was overall ineffective. He struggled all game with the physicality of Harrell, who dominated inside the paint to the tune of 26 PTS on 50 percent shooting. And again, it is OK for Lauri to struggle when matched up with a high-energy player like Harrell. But nights like Friday are exactly when he could use another player on the floor who could feed him for some easy baskets.
LaVine did his best to carry the offense in the second half with Arcidiacono out, and Dunn & Markkanen dealing with foul trouble. He scored 15 of his 31 PTS after the half. He also finished the game with 7 assists (and 4 turnovers), the first time he has chipped in at least 5 assists since March 1.
But LaVine also got to the FT line a whopping 13 times in this game, his second-highest FT total in a single game on the season. When you are exerting that much energy–in terms of being a team’s best 3PT shooter, finisher and playmaker–it is understandable that you personally may struggle with turnovers. However, the Bulls carelessness with the ball extends to the entire roster. This was clear seeing as the Bulls finished the game with 17 total turnovers which led to the Clippers scoring 23 PTS off of those turnovers, which was the main deciding factor in the game.
The Bulls and the Clippers are both teams that very much take on the personality of their head coach. Both teams have had a heavy focus on toughness, dominating defensive rebounding, points in the paint and mid-range offense this season.
And so it was almost fitting that once things got intense on the court, it spilled over to the sideline where Jim Boylen and Rivers exchanged words, leading to a very quick double ejection.
Doc responded – “Maybe you should turn to your players and tell them to call out screens.” pic.twitter.com/bpUTcmsDlQ
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) March 16, 2019
The NBA is fun. pic.twitter.com/M7u4GcYICV
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 16, 2019
If Boylen’s ploy was to get himself ejected on purpose to fire up the team, then kudos, as the Bulls actually outscored the Clippers 45-37 from the moment he got ejected late in the third quarter. Of course, the damage was already done as the Bulls were dominated in the early portion of the 3rd.
Though the Bulls couldn’t pull out the road win, this was yet another game that suggests there is some growing synergy between Boylen and his young roster. And THAT is the most important thing for the franchise as they head into a crucial offseason.