“It hurts,” LaVine said, per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic on April 14 after Chicago fell 102-91 to the Miami Heat in their second-round Play-In Tournament matchup. “Try to do everything you can to just try to scratch your way and win the game. Had a good opportunity…but it just didn’t happen. Didn’t make enough plays at the end. It stings.
“I just didn’t shoot the ball well. A lot of good shots I felt like that normally go in. It sucks knowing that we were so close. If I make a couple of those, it could be the tipping point. So it hurts a lot.”
LaVine finished the win-or-go-home affair with 15 points on 6-for-21 shooting. He did add four rebounds and two assists but also committed five mostly costly turnovers and went 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.
As unfortunate as it may seem, it was much more in line with how his season ended.
The two-time All-Star lit up the Toronto Raptors down the stretch of the Bulls’ first Play-In game scoring 30 of his 39 points after halftime. But his other point totals over the Bulls’ final three games were 13 points against the Milwaukee Bucks – who the Heat move on to face in the first round of the playoffs – and 17 points versus the Detroit Pistons as he sat out Chicago’s win over the Dallas Mavericks.
It wasn’t as though LaVine was the only Bulls to go cold in a game that saw Miami close on a 15-1 run.
But LaVine was especially so all night and is the highest-paid player on the team in the first year of a five-year, $215 million max contract last summer. At the time he signed, he openly spoke about not feeling any additional pressure due to entering a new stratosphere in terms of NBA salary.
It was not from a place of arrogance but rather an assistance that he expects the most from himself and trusts the work he puts in.
“People really don’t have to worry about that side, ’cause I think for me, I have my own bucket list and checklists and things that I want to accomplish for myself,” LaVine told Natasha Dye of People Magazine. “You know, I continue to go out there and play the way I am, have been, continue to, to try to lead the team to wins and get deeper and deeper into the playoffs.”
Still, in the immediate aftermath of the loss, the crowd was none too kind.
Fans Come For Zach LaVine After Dud vs Heat
“Zach LaVine is one of those players who looks like the best in the world some nights and the exact opposite on others,” tweeted James Boyd of The Athletic, a native of nearby suburban Romeoville. “Good player but not a superstar by any means.”
Boyd’s sentiments fell on the kinder side of the spectrum as LaVine was lambasted on social media.
“Zach Lavine needs to spend the whole summer working on trying to identify what’s a good shot,” tweeted Hall-of-Fame basketball writer Peter Vescey.
Max Strus: Win ‘Feels a Little Bit Better’ vs Bulls
As if things weren’t bad enough, the Bulls were downed by some clutch work from Heat star and former Bulls franchise cornerstone Jimmy Butler who scored 22 of his 31 points after the break including 13 in the fourth quarter alone. The previous Bulls front office regime traded Butler rather than give him as much money as possible, sending him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a package including LaVine.
The Bulls were also cooked by former Windy City Bull Max Strus who scored eight of his 31 points – 7-for-12 on 3P – in the final frame.
But he kicked things off tallying 14 points and going 4-for-5 from deep in the opening salvo.
“It’s huge,” Strus told TNT NBA insider Chris Haynes after the game. “It don’t really matter who we’re playing, we had to win this one no matter what. Win or go home and we’re not done yet. So we want to keep playing and it’s good to get that one. But it does feel a little bit better against them, I’m not going to lie.”