The Chicago Bulls extended their theme of continuity a bit too far in their 124-104 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only did the Bulls struggle to shoot the ball from long distance (28.6% 3P), but their struggles led to visible frustration and a players-only meeting in the aftermath.
Zach LaVine was one of the culprits in contributing to the loss. He was inefficient, finishing with 16 points on 4-for-16 shooting with four rebounds and three assists.
He also had four turnovers and had to sit with untimely foul trouble.
“We didn’t respond once they did that run in the second half,” LaVine said via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic on October 25. “Wasn’t a great showing from us. Didn’t shoot the ball well, don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s on us. It’s a terrible way to come out and start the season. But it gives us a opportunity to bounce back the next game.”
The Bulls erased a six-point halftime deficit and took a 62-61 lead with just under 11 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Thunder outscored the Bulls 30-22 in the from that point on in the quarter and 33-22 in the fourth.
“It’s unacceptable,” LaVine said of the Bulls’ effort. “We gotta come together through those runs, and go out there and make sure we make a game out of it.
He did not single anyone out and said that he didn’t believe it was intentional.
There was also a point when head coach Billy Donovan sat the two-time All-Star for a long stretch from the end of the third quarter into the final frame. Last season, a similar occurrence led to some friction between LaVine and Donovan. This time, though, the guard said his head coach let him know it was due to his foul trouble and not his lackluster performance to that point.
Bulls Hold Players-Only Meeting After Opener
Donovan said he went into the locker room after the game and the players were having a lively conversation. He said he asked them if they needed more time to sort things out, and they told him yes so he left.
The head coach downplayed the meeting. His sentiments were later echoed by center Nikola Vucevic who also got into an animated discussion with Donovan on the sidelines that both downplayed after the game.
“A lot of guys said a lot of good things, things that needed to be said,” Vucevic said via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I think we can really use this to learn and change some things that we need to change. It wasn’t anything crazy, no fighting or none of that — it was really constructive. It was maybe one of the first times since I’ve been here that this was like this. And it was really needed.”
It took until mid-December last season before stories of team meetings began to leak, including a blowup at halftime of one game aimed at LaVine. The high-flying guard also held multiple face-to-face sitdowns with DeMar DeRozan to figure out their on-court fit.
The Bulls were minus-13.7 in their minutes together versus OKC, per Cleaning The Glass.
Zach LaVine Says ‘It’s Time’ Bulls Big Three Produces
The Bulls players have added their own pressure to the situation. There was already a notion that this group is already nearing the end of its shelf-life.
“For how explosive we are as individually, it hasn’t been shown as a unit,” LaVine said via the team on media day on October 2. “So we have to do a better job with that, and it’s been three years of it. It’s time to put pen to paper and actually see some results.”
The Bulls signed LaVine to a five-year, $215 million contract last offseason.
However, they have also fielded trade offers for him dating back to last season’s trade deadline. They just set their asking price higher than any suitor has been willing to meet. It will be interesting to see how long they maintain that asking price. Especially if this showing becomes a trend in the early part of the season.