There was a lot of doom and gloom in the first half of the Bulls’ remarkable comeback win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday. The Bulls trailed 61-43 and it looked like a snoozer loss was in store. Or was it?
The Bulls actually played pretty well, at least offensively, in that first half. There were a lot of strong indicators that they would come back and make it competitive. The deficit was mostly due to red hot Pistons shooting and bricking wide open looks from the Bulls. In the second half, the Pistons went 1-of-15 from 3, the Bulls shot their normal percentage, and the Bulls won.
I have seen way too much narrative building this season around big deficits, and it is important to realize that a lot of the times, it’s just due to dumb luck on 3-pointers. The next time the Bulls find themselves in a big hole, take a deep breath and look at the 3-point shooting splits.
Variance wasn’t the only reason for the big deficit though. The young starters have continued to play poorly, while the bench has propped up the Bulls to win these games.
Billy Donovan finally said that enough is enough and put out his best lineup to start the second half. That meant Tomas Satoransky in place of Coby White, Denzel Valentine in place of Patrick Williams, and Thad Young in place of Wendell Carter (although Carter came back in fairly early in the period). That group, plus Carter, ripped 11 points off the lead in the first seven or eight minutes of the quarter before Donovan went back to the youths.
The little dirty secret that nobody seems to want to talk about this season is how bad these young players, excluding LaVine and Carter, have been in the starting lineup. The Bulls’ opening day starters had a younger average age than the University of Wisconsin, so it is understandable that they are not playing well. But if Donovan wants to win games, then he better go with the vets.
There is certainly an argument for developing White and Williams by throwing them into the fire. But I don’t know how many favors you are doing them by having them face off against more talented opposing starting units rather than letting them build confidence against weaker benches. This is particularly true in the case of White, who looks completely overmatched every time he plays point guard against a quality opponent.
The other big noteworthy change in the Bulls’ playing style was that their crunch time offense shifted from letting LaVine cook in favor of a more egalitarian approach.
I have long been banging the drum that hero ball as your sole source of crunch time offense does not work. The Bulls have lost a ton of close games because of how predictable they’ve been down the stretch, as I wrote about last week.
Against the Pistons, LaVine was making the right passes when double-teamed. He’s one of the most blitzed players in the league, and Young is one of the best playmaking bigs. It only makes then that the Bulls should run the LaVine-Young pick-and-roll over and over to end games, which they have finally started doing. The results were nuclear.
When Young catches the ball in the short roll with a 4-on-3 advantage, there is no other big man besides Nikola Jokic that is capable of making such high quality decisions. LaVine has started to understand that this is how the Bulls are going to win games, and teammates have been hitting open shots behind him.
LaVine has fixed basically every criticism that I’ve had about him. He’s improved his defense, his passing has gotten noticeably better, and he’s cut down on the chucking at the end of games. Forget about All-Star, he has a case for All-NBA at the end of the year if he can keep on tamping down his bad habits.
Patrick Williams was the other noteworthy Bull on Wednesday, with apologies to Carter whose typical solid but unspectacular performance will have to wait for another day. Williams has had an up-and-down season, which is to be expected for the youngest player currently in the league. He was absolutely manhandling Mason Plumlee all night though, and that level of strength at 19 is definitely noteworthy.
This matches with his previous game against the Indiana Pacers, where he did get stonewalled a couple of times by Myles Turner, but also had flashes of powering through Domantas Sabonis.
Williams also showed off some of his passing early in this game. These little flashes are what make him so exciting as a prospect.
And of course, he had the dagger to finish it off.
In typical Williams fashion, he was completely nonchalant after hitting the biggest shot of his NBA career thus far. I’ll let him have the last word.
My stories are going to be totally free this year. Click the link above to subscribe (free) if you’d like to be alerted when a new one comes out. You can also follow me for extra tidbits on Twitter.
I’m also using this space to advertise for myself. If you need an NBA writer, I am available. Writing portfolio at StephenNoh.com.