Even with Zach LaVine out, the Chicago Bulls managed to pull off a statement win on Monday, largely by way of defense, veteran Garrett Temple’s calling card.
They put down the Boston Celtics, winners of six straight, 102-96. It’s the first time this season Chicago’s held back-to-back opponents to under 100 points.
No one thinks the Bulls are a better team without LaVine.
But they could be a better team than the one he left when he returns.
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A Defensive Focus
In what was almost perfect timing, Garrett Temple’s return from a hamstring injury came the game before Zach LaVine was entered into the league’s health and safety protocol.
The Bulls have needed him every minute he’s been on the floor since.
Temple was instrumental in Chicago’s management of Jayson Tatum on Monday. Boston’s star forward finished with just 14 points on three-of-17 shooting.
Tatum gave credit where credit was due after the game, telling NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson: “I gotta give them credit. They did a great job defending, showing help, just making it tough.”
It was Temple who lead the charge, not just in his defensive efforts individually, but for the team as a whole.
The 11-year veteran sounded confident in Chicago’s defensive potential when speaking to reporters (via NBC Sports) after the team’s big win at TD Garden:
Obviously, we lost a big piece in Zach, 28 (points) a game. But if we’re able to guard like we’re capable of — like (Monday) — we have enough on the other end to score.
He’s not wrong. With Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Vucevic, Thaddeus Young, and eventually Zach LaVine, the Bulls have enough offensive firepower to compete with anyone:
Vooch did a great job for us keeping us in the game in the first half offensively. And then it opens up shots for Coby (White), myself. But I think the biggest thing is if we defend, we grind, we guard like we’re capable of, then we can win any game we play.
Temple himself had a good scoring night, finishing with 13 points and three made threes. It was his first night in double digits since a February win over the Sacramento Kings.
Chicago’s going to need all of that and more from him as they face no timeline on LaVine’s return.
Updated Bulls Playoff Odds
After their victory over the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls are 24-33.
That’s good for the Eastern Conference’s 10th-seed, with a number of teams (Toronto, Washington) hot on their heels for the final play-in spot.
Likely taking Zach LaVine’s undefined absence into account, Five Thirty Eight has the Bulls’ playoff chances at six percent.
That’s good for the worst odds among teams with a greater than one percent chance.
The website’s forecast heavily favors Toronto to make the postseason, with an 18 percent chance. Washington has just seven percent odds.
Tankathon.com has Chicago’s remaining schedule as the seventh-toughest in the entire NBA.
So the odds are against the Chicago Bulls, even after back-to-back wins.
15 games to go.