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NBA

Bulls Go For Two, Down Three

1:10 PM EST on January 12, 2023

Zach Lavine takes the final shot as his teammates look on in horror
NBC Sports Chicago

It shouldn't have come down to a last-second shot for the Bulls, who led the Wizards by 13 at the half on Wednesday night. Then they found themselves on the wrong end of a 41-21 third quarter, which meant Chicago would spend the final frame scrambling back to a tie. It was the Bulls' first game of the season without DeMar DeRozan, out with a right quad strain, and Zach LaVine took up the slack with an efficient and pretty 38 points on 28 shots. But LaVine will also have to answer for his esoteric decision-making in the last play of the game.

On the Bulls' penultimate possession, LaVine tied the game with an ultra-slick catch-and-shoot three. The Wizards' Kyle Kuzma replied with a three of his own. Down 97-100, Chicago called a timeout and inbounded the ball with 5.7 seconds in regulation. Conventional wisdom is to attempt a shot beyond the arc, or "three-pointer," which is worth three points, which would have made the score 100-100, and potentially pushed the game to overtime. LaVine, a real hooper, knows the beauty and potency of the midrange jumper. Judging by the body language of Alex Caruso and Nikola Vucevic—both wide-open on the arc, arms extended in disbelief—those guys simply aren't real hoopers.

In a postgame interview, a soft-spoken LaVine laid out his thinking. "We were just trying to get a three off. And then I went to go pull up, I think it was whoever came off of Alex [Caruso]—Delon Wright—fouled me. So you know, my instinct was to just to go up and try to get a three-point play. I was going for a pull-up when he fouled me. I shot it. They didn't call it. And that's how it is."

It's also worth noting that the Wizards still had a foul to give, regardless. LaVine said that Delon Wright told him he had fouled him, and that official Rodney Mott told him he had missed the call. I remain curious about one missing link in LaVine's process. What happened in between "trying to get a three off" and "then I went to go pull up"? Even after he ducked inside the arc, was there was a fleeting thought for the open teammates who had enough time to catch and shoot a shot that, again, would be worth three points? This interview offers no clear answers. The thoughts of LaVine must remain an enigma. (Though not too long ago, he was supposedly thinking about embarking for a team where he wouldn't have to defer to a first option like DeRozan.)

Heading into this week, the Bulls had rehabilitated their accursed season by winning eight of their previous 11 games, beating good teams like the Sixers, Nets, Heat, and Bucks. Then on Monday they lost to the Celtics, despite a 15-point fourth-quarter push from LaVine, and DeRozan got hurt in the game, though coach Billy Donovan said it isn't serious. The serious injury belongs to Lonzo Ball, who played 35 strong games last season back when the Bulls were surging towards competence. Ball has no timeline for returning from last January's left meniscus tear, which required a second procedure in September because he still experienced pain going up stairs; last week Donovan said Ball was getting shots up but not yet running. The "mystery box" allure of the 2020 fourth-overall pick Patrick Williams fades with every actual game played. Trades for Vucevic and DeRozan have cost Chicago three future first-round picks. Last night the Bulls lost to a fellow conference mediocrity angling for the play-in. Maybe they'll rejigger the roster before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, or maybe will just settle back down into the pit from which they briefly rose.

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