Bulls Insider

LaVine offers damning quote after Bulls clinch play-in


Zach LaVine didn’t mince words Tuesday night.

“I just think they wanted it more than us,” LaVine said following the Chicago Bulls’ latest deflating, head-scratching loss.

In case anybody missed it the first time LaVine said it after the Bulls laid an egg at home against the Trae Young-less Atlanta Hawks, he said it again.

“Every one of these games is must-win for us. Obviously, we didn’t do good enough. They wanted it more than us,” LaVine said. “It sucks to have that type of result at this point in the season.”

Indeed, on a night the Bulls officially clinched a play-in spot thanks to an Orlando Magic loss, little felt celebratory or positive. The Hawks’ 123-105 dismantling at the United Center prevented the Bulls from moving into ninth place and dealt a serious blow to their ability to advance from the 10th seed with three games to play.

That’s because the Bulls now sit two games behind the eighth-place Hawks and ninth-place Toronto Raptors. And the Raptors already own the tiebreaker over the Bulls, while the tiebreaker between the Bulls-Hawks has yet to be determined.

Here are five observations from the loss:

1. For the second straight game, the Bulls dug themselves an early hole.

With the Hawks down two starters in Young and De’Andre Hunter, the Bulls inexplicably lost Bogdan Bogdanovic, who sank three quick 3-pointers and scored 11 of his 26 points in a 13-2 opening.

“I don’t think we brought the physicality and energy needed. We weren’t locked in. From the beginning, we were playing from behind,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We didn’t have the approach needed, for whatever reason. It’s unfortunate. Give them credit. They played a great game. They shot the ball really well. They defended well. They did a lot of stuff well. They deserved to win.”

2. Billy Donovan uncharacteristically used his coach’s challenge in the first quarter.

Donovan did so to try to prevent Alex Caruso from drawing two early fouls. But following video review, officials upheld their block charge on Caruso as he tried to take a charge from Dejounte Murray.

Donovan long has favored saving his challenge for late-game situations. His usage spoke to the game’s importance, even if it failed.

And even if his team didn’t play with the same urgency.

“We didn’t play with as much energy as we did since All-Star,” Vucevic said.

Added LaVine: “We don’t want to come out flat like this in what I think is the most important game of the year. It took a lot for us to play ourselves out of the play-in. We’re trying to get a little higher seed. It’s frustrating.”

3. Similar to Sunday’s comeback victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in which the Bulls rallied from a 23-point deficit, the Bulls used defense to try to rally. They forced the Hawks into 17 turnovers, which they cashed in for 23 points.

But it seemed every time they had an opportunity to trim a one-time, 20-point deficit below eight, they came up short.

One particular sequence stood out. Coby White missed a good look on a 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 22 seconds left and Bogdanovic sank another at the other end. After White scored on a traditional three-point play, he missed a layup in transition after stealing the ball from AJ Griffin. Jalen Johnson appeared to grab the rim on the play.

After Onyeka Okongwu dunked, White drove again, only to be blocked by Okongwu.

4. The Hawks scored an opponent-season-high 70 points in the paint.

“Didn’t guard the ball well,” LaVine said. “Didn’t rotate well. Didn’t rebound well.”

With just 11 words, LaVine nailed it.

5. The Bulls did clinch a play-in spot. But the momentum that has followed recent performances and confidence that has oozed throughout their post-All-Star break play was nowhere to be found.

For whatever it’s worth, winning and advancing to ninth---even if it didn’t ultimately hold---would’ve seemed symbolic. Instead, the Bulls had to take a big-picture view at the development.

“We're happy that at least we're going to be in (play-in). Obviously, it hasn't been the season so far we wanted. We hoped to be higher in the standings,” Vucevic said. “But this gives us an opportunity to get into the playoffs."

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