Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine started Wednesday’s season opener against the Atlanta Hawks guarding star point guard Trae Young, a collective decision by the team.
“You can expect me to take that challenge offensively and defensively,” LaVine said.
LaVine, who’s made playing better defense a point of emphasis this season, struggled in his debut as the team’s primary defender after moving on from starting point guard Kris Dunn, the team’s best defender from a season ago who signed with the Hawks this offseason but did not play on Wednesday.
Young brought the fight to the Bulls early and found success with ease. The third-year guard, coming off an All-Star sophomore season, scored 12 points on 4 for 4 shooting in the first quarter. LaVine found himself in early foul trouble, committing his fourth of the game in the second quarter which forced him to play off the ball early.
The damage had already been done in a game that grew ugly. The Hawks mounted a 24-point lead at halftime and ran away with a 124-104 victory over the Bulls — who at one point trailed by 40 points.
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LaVine: ‘Trae Killed Us’
LaVine was willing to admit his debut as the team’s primary defender was far from spectacular.
“I got in early foul trouble and it made me switch off him a little bit. Obviously, Trae’s a great player and we’re going to be playing against a lot of tough guys and I want to take that assignment. I think I have the ability to do that, and I’ll continue to get better at it,” he said. “But it’s a team game. We’ve got to do better overall. Trae killed us. I feel like the whole team killed us the way it was looking. It looked like we were just taking the ball out the basket, so we’ve got to do better collectively.”
Young put together a performance that had been unseen in NBA history. The 22-year-old, who scored a game-high 37 points, shooting 10 for 12 from the field and 5 of 6 from three-point range, became the only player in history to score at least 37 points on 12 or fewer field goal attempts — in part due to capitalizing on 12 of 14 free throws. He also added six rebounds and seven assists in only 26 minutes played.
It Only Gets Tougher for Bulls and LaVine
After getting beaten in the paint, beyond the arc, in the paint and at the free-throw line, it’ll be difficult to pinpoint and make adjustments to an overall poor defensive performance by the Bulls. The Hawks shot 54% (43 for 80) from the field and 40% (14 for 35) on 3-pointers and scored 23 points in transition.
The going only gets tougher for the Bulls who’ll face more growing pains with the upcoming slate of guards they face in Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, Russel Westbrook twice and Luca Doncic in their next six games.
“We’ve got to get physically tougher on the ball and having some resistance in preventing the ball from getting downhill and to the rim and being able to close back out,” coach Billy Donovan said.”We did not help each other well enough defensively.”
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