By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — There was plenty for the Bulls to learn from their 119-112 loss to the defending champion Warriors on Wednesday evening.
For one, Kris Dunn’s teeth can go blow for blow with the United Center hardwood. That much was clear after Dunn went face-first onto the floor upon an awkward landing from a dunk late in the fourth quarter. He left the game bleeding with his two front teeth chipped as a small chunk of the floor was also dislodged from the impact, as coach Fred Hoiberg explained. Dunn didn’t show any symptoms of a concussion when evaluated postgame, and he’ll be re-evaluated Thursday.
As it pertained to the non-medical matters, the Bulls proved that when they’re engaged and making the right decisions in their offensive system, they can be competitive with the best. And when they lose focus, even just for a time, they lack the talent to compete.
After taking a 66-63 lead into halftime, the Bulls shot 6-of-25 in a third quarter in which they were outscored 32-12 and went through a 6:36 scoreless stretch.
“We lost our minds out there,” Hoiberg said. “We weren’t hitting shots, then we couldn’t get back and get matched up.”
The fourth-quarter response had everyone involved more pleased. Led by the continued strong play of Nikola Mirotic (team-high 24 points, six rebounds), the Bulls cut what was once a 19-point deficit down to five and had a chance to make it a two-point game when Lauri Markkanen (11 points) airballed an open 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.
Hoiberg called the play of the first, second and fourth quarters “unbelievable.”
“We fought back,” LaVine said. “That’s the best thing about us, is we’re never going to stop playing.”
The Bulls were also reminded that LaVine’s comeback from ACL surgery won’t be as smooth as it first appeared production-wise. LaVine’s third game back, each on a 20-minute limit, was his worst, as he scored five points on 2-of-12 shooting to go along with two assists and one turnover.
Come Thursday, LaVine will meet with doctors, trainers and team officials to set a plan for the next stage of his workload. LaVine believes he’s ready to play much more than 20 minutes and was pleased with the early stages of his return.
“I haven’t thought about anything,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’ve played free. I haven’t had any setbacks or anything like that, anything I’d need to worry about. Still feel quick, still feel explosive, still able to dunk — you saw that tonight. Everything’s good.”
The Bulls found themselves rallying in the second half because of their inability to keep Warriors stars Steph Curry (30 points) and Klay Thompson (38 points) under control. The two combined to shoot 13-of-24 on 3-pointers, numbers that were a result of their supreme talent and also the Bulls’ miscommunication in the half court and inability to identify them in transition.
The Bulls’ main defensive bright spot was David Nwaba, who took over as the primary defender on Curry in the final quarter-and-a-half, over which Curry was scoreless. Nwaba played one of his best games of the season, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds while also forcing Curry into several turnovers.
Perhaps down the line, we’ll remember Wednesday as the night Nwaba helped solidify himself in the Bulls’ long-term plans.
“He’s off the charts,” LaVine said. “I love David. David puts his heart and soul on the court every game. He may not get plays called or he may not get the minutes or they’re inconsistent, but regardless, he doesn’t complain. He goes out there and plays his butt off. He’s extremely good at it. He makes energy plays, dives on the floor, guards the best player.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.