CHICAGO, Ill — Zach LaVine has been open about his disinterest in losing games for the “tank”, and once again on Monday night he did his best to prove that point. With just seconds left on the clock LaVine capped off another solid performance by stealing the inbound pass from the Orlando Magic and slamming it home on the other end for a game-winning dunk.
LaVine scored 18 points on 7-16 shooting on the evening, and logged 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal in the Bulls 105-101 victory over the Orlando Magic. This coming just three nights after he narrowly missed the 40-point plateau and out-dueled Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves late for a come-from-behind victory — it’s safe to say that LaVine is establishing himself as a late game closer for Chicago just weeks after returning from ACL surgery last year.
While the ending resulted in a win for the Bulls, the majority of the game was an indicator that this team still isn’t quite where it needs to be, as both sides played sloppy basketball all night, as the Bulls blew a massive fourth quarter lead before escaping with a win.
“It shouldn’t have [come down to that], but it’s something for us where it’s a great learning opportunity for our young group,’’ Hoiberg said. “We had an 18-point lead with under 10 to go and again, we just got careless. We had five turnovers [in the fourth] and they scored off every one of them.
After both the Bulls and the Magic started slow on Monday night, the Bulls made it a priority to get the ball to Lauri Markkanen, who scored eight points in the quarter on an efficient 4-6 shooting performance in the opening quarter to give the Bulls a 30-27 lead after one in Chicago.
Markkanen scored five more in the second quarter to give him 13 points in the first half, and the Bulls would eventually take a narrow 53-51 lead into the locker room at halftime. Markkanen found success working from both the inside and the outside, and the Bulls were able to outscore the Magic in a first half that carried a sluggish pace for nearly the entirety.
It wasn’t until the early minutes for the fourth quarter that the Bulls looked like they were ready to kick in into that next gear and close the door on Orlando when they rattled off a 16-4 run to take a commanding 93-75 lead. Of course, without Kris Dunn once again, the Bulls lacked the depth and firepower to close out an in-impressive Orlando squad down the stretch.
Orlando would eventually dissolve the Bulls’ 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, jumping out in front 101-98 on the strength of a huge 16-1 run middle of the quarter. After Mario Hezonja and Bobby Portis traded three-pointers to make it a three-point Magic lead with 2:29 left, both offenses would disappear until the final seconds of the game.
Enter Zach LaVine, who missed Saturday night’s game due to a mandatory rest period on the second half of a back-to-back. As I mentioned before, LaVine gave the Bulls the 103-101 lead with 12.4 seconds to play after he intercepted a Jonathan Simmons inbound pass intended for Shelvin Mack, and took it home for a game-winning slam. The Magic would miss a three-pointer on the other end, and the Bulls would add a pair to win the ballgame by a final score of 105-101 on Monday night.
“I pushed up on him and just tried to make it tough,’’ LaVine said. “Justin [Holiday] made a good play. He shaded the ball to the right. I bumped into Mack, made the dude pass it obviously to the left and came in and made an aggressive play on the ball.’’
While Lauri Markkanen led the team with 21 points, LaVine’s impact in the waning seconds of the ballgame was an encore to his performance on Friday night when he spoiled the homecoming of Jimmy Butler in front of a sell-out United Center crowd. Head Coach Fred Hoiberg called LaVine’s play “a great read,” on the steal, but Hoiberg maintained that the Bulls were only in that situation because of their own laziness down the stretch.
“He made a great read on the play, shooting the gap and getting the steal,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously we needed it. We were awful in the last seven minutes as far as closing out that game. Had the big lead and just took our foot of the gas and allowed them to get back into it just with careless turnovers. Part of that was when we had to take [LaVine] out so that he could finish the game.’’
When asked if he enjoyed his newfound role, LaVine left no doubt that he is embracing being the Bulls new closer late in games, “I embrace it,” LaVine said of being the Bulls’ closer of late. “You have to get it done. Everybody wants to have the ball in their hands at the end of the game. You have to have the confidence and ability to do it, and I think I do.”